Mov­ingg in for the kill

This su­per-sleeper of a thriller chiller will leave many big­ger-bud­geted films stum­bling in its wake, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

frock coat in sight. Not that he has any­thing against frock coats.

“It has been nice to take the stiff col­lar off for a bit,” ad­mits the 31-year-old. “I would love to go and do a pe­riod drama again if the right sort of thing came up. But at the mo­ment how I op­er­ate is very script based. I say yes if I am in­ter­ested in work­ing with the di­rec­tor or if the script makes me laugh or if it’s some­thing I want to ex­plore. I wouldn’t throw some­thing off my desk in a huff just be­cause it’s set in 1874. But I am look­ing for some­thing with a twist.”

It has been a busy a cou­ple of years for the ac­tor. In 2012 he was on the judg­ing panel for the Booker Prize, an “amaz­ing hon­our” he says, but one that re­quired read­ing more than 100 books in a very short space of time.

“I’ve since had to re­ha­bil­i­tate my­self as a reader,” he says. “In two years I have def­i­nitely not read as many as I did dur­ing those months. Not even close. And it’s been nice to take my time with a novel and not race through won­der­ing ‘is this a great work of lit­er­ary fic­tion?’ and ‘What am I go­ing to say about this at the next judges’ meet­ing?’”

Stevens has lately re­lo­cated to Brook­lyn with Ha­riet and their two chil­dren, Wil­low (born 2009) and Aubrey (who ar­rived in 2012).

He looks leaner and sleeker than he did dur­ing his Down­ton years. New York has, he says, changed his eat­ing habits, but oth­er­wise hasn’t ne­ces­si­tated too much of a cul­tural shift.

“I’ve al­ways loved Brook­lyn,” says Stevens. “And I’ve al­ways wanted to live there be­cause var­i­ous po­ets I love lived there and I love that feel­ing of walk­ing on the same streets. But New York and Lon­don are both great cities and are re­ally quite sim­i­lar. If any­thing, mov­ing away has given me a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Lon­don.”

He has just fin­ished shoot­ing Night at the Mu­seum 3 and The Cob­bler op­po­site Adam San­dler. For now, how­ever, he’s tak­ing a “beat” so that he can spend some time at home.

“Hav­ing chil­dren is won­der­ful for an ac­tor, I think,” he says “Partly be­cause they re­mind you about so many great things in life that have noth­ing to do with work and also be­cause an ac­tor is in­ter­ested in peo­ple and char­ac­ter and per­son­al­ity. So watch­ing two lit­tle hu­mans grow up is so very ex­cit­ing.”

THE GUEST ★★★★ Di­rected by Adam Win­gard. Star­ring Dan Stevens, Maika Mon­roe, Bren­dan Meyer, Lance Red­dick, Sheila Kel­ley 15A cert, 99 min

Blue-eyed sol­dier boy David (Dan Stevens) ar­rives in a small New Mex­i­can town to visit the fam­ily of a fallen com­rade. The griev­ing mom (Sheila Kel­ley) no­tices that the young Iraq War vet­eran has ap­peared, as if from nowhere, but David’s “yes ma’am” man­ners soon put her at ease. The fam­ily are not in great emo­tional shape: dad has hit the bot­tle, teenager Luke is sullen and with­drawn, and his older goth sis­ter Anna (Maika Mon­roe) stays in her room mak­ing mix-tapes.

Might their new guest al­low the heal­ing to be­gin? Per­haps. David soon makes him­self use­ful by tack­ling Luke’s school­yard tor­men­tors, hang­ing out the house­hold wash­ing and car­ry­ing kegs around a party Anna at­tends. But Anna con­tin­ues to sus­pect that David is not all that he seems to be. She has no idea. Adam Win­gard is the mum­ble­gore hor­ror hot­shot be­hind the bet­ter bits of the V/H/S port­man­teau hor­ror and the 2011 cult favourite You’re Next. The lat­ter’s hefty profit mar­gin has al­lowed the hy­phen­ate di­rec­tor, ed­i­tor, cin­e­matog­ra­pher and writer to move up di­vi­sions with a bud­get of more than $1 mil­lion.

Be­ing ac­cus­tomed to pro­duc­ing his ear­lier, murkier movies for $20,000 or so, Mr Win­gard knows well how to get more bang for your buck. Armed with some­thing ap­proach­ing a real bud­get, he now puts on one hell of a show. The Guest, a thriller that be­comes a hor­ror that tran­si­tions into a hi­lar­i­ous trun­ca­tion of ev­ery 1980s ac­tion pic­ture and back again, is as ex­trav­a­gant and am­bi­tious a film as you’ll see all year. Pic­ture Com­mando as a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller. Imag­ine Hal­loween as a theme park ride. Think Drive as a com­edy.

A clev­erly picked con­stel­la­tion of TV favourites – Down­ton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, LA Law’s Sheila Kel­ley, Fringe’s Lance Red­dick – add some star wattage to an out­ra­geous and out­ra­geously en­ter­tain­ing hy­brid.

Stevens keeps a poker-straight face as he de­liv­ers some of the year’s fun­ni­est lines. Maika Mon­roe’s screen mag­netism is enough to keep Scar-Jo and J-Law awake dur­ing the long win­ter nights.

If Luc Bee­son’s Lucy has left you jonesing for some­thing that stands apart from the su­per­heroes and straight-world toughs that pop­u­late the moviev­erse, then The Guest is a most wel­come im­po­si­tion.

Dan Stevens in The Guest, right, and be­low, with buddy Bene­dict Cumer­batch at the

film’s gala screen­ing in Lon­don on Mon­day night. Be­low right: with Michelle Dock­ery in Down­ton Abbey

Re­sis­tant to his charms: Maika Mon­roe as the de­fi­ant Anna in The Guest

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