This review contains spoilers.
I couldn’t help myself. I’m going to be watching The Guest again in a week or two for my podcast, but when it popped up as the first thing on my Netflix last night, I had to watch it again for the 4th time.
The Guest holds up to repeat viewings so well. All of the performances are really fun and get funnier and more interesting the more you watch it and invest in their individual stories. And the movie is just mysterious enough that each time I’ve had a new reading of it upon finishing it. And this viewing’s reading is a doozy.
I think that “David” might actually be Caleb, the Peterson’s dead son. I’m going to use my upcoming viewing to try and pull this theory apart a little more, but I think at the very least there’s evidence for it and it makes for an interesting, more twisted tale if we view it through that lens.
Let’s start with some of the obvious – “David’s” story involves him getting facial reconstructive surgery, potentially more than once (but definitely once that we know of) to make himself look like a completely different man. More than one character confirms throughout, and Luke says to “David” directly that he is NOT David. And when Luke says this to “David” it’s the first time we see “David” address Luke with contempt and malice, giving credence to the thought that what Luke is saying is true. In fact the only character to say that “David” actually IS David is Major Carver. But he says it to Anna, whose parents have just been murdered by “David,” and I believe that the Major is simply protecting Anna. Revealing that her parents weren’t just murdered but were murdered at her supposedly dead brother Caleb’s hands might be too much for her to take. So, on a basic, pretty backed up by evidence level, the man we know as “David” is not David. So who is he?
Throughout the movie whenever “David” speaks about Caleb, he specifies how close they were, and in an odd intonation he doesn’t often use throughout the movie that I think indicates he’s lying. Or perhaps more accurately is stretching the truth. He did know Caleb very well because he is Caleb, or at least he used to be. At the end when he stabs Mrs. Peterson he says something along the lines of “Caleb would understand what I’m doing right now.” Of course he would, he’s you. And why else would you feel the need to tell her that as you’re murdering her? Then when he kills Mr. Peterson, there’s a great comedic moment when “David” realizes the car accident he just forced Mr. Peterson into didn’t actually kill him, and he gives a big disgruntled sigh and then shoots Mr. Peterson in the stomach. If you can look past the comedy of the moment, perhaps that sigh is regret that he’s now going to have to kill his father face to face as well, after trying his hardest to make him go out without that actual confrontation. There’s just something about the way these interactions go down that make me think “David” is keeping a much bigger secret than he, or even the movie, ever truly lets on.
Part of my reasoning here is related to Dan Stevens’ phenomenal performance as “David.” It’s so layered that I’m still not quite sure how manipulative he’s actually being at any given moment. And as I watched it last night, I realized his interactions with each of the Peterson’s are very familial. As Mr. and Mrs. Peterson are fighting he says to Luke “Your parents are fightin about me,” in a tone that indicated to me this had happened before and was typical of the relationship he once had with these people. This family all seems distant from one another, but not necessarily because of the loss of Caleb, but because they’re a modern, uncommunicative bunch. And initially “David” seems to take it upon himself to try and repair this family if he can. He takes on an older brother roll to Luke, even referring to him as “my brother here” in the bar. He tries to give Mr. Peterson advice regarding his marriage and his station in life, as if looking at his father as an equal for the first time. Even with Anna, who at a certain point seems aroused by David (making this reading a bit uncomfortable, but no less accurate I think, I mean he is psychotic) only ends up feeling like she has a protector, the one she never had in Caleb when he was alive. And that’s how “David” treats her as well – he’s looking out for her. Although it may seem to her he’s playing at being a bit flirty, it seems to me he’s only interested in being the big brother she never had that is invested in her and her relationships.
I also started to take note of his interactions with everyone else around town. He seems to be taking an odd pleasure in each of his interactions with people who we assume are strangers to him. Why does he kill Craig and Higgins in the manner he does? What interest does he actually have in beating up the school bullies in Luke’s name? Why does he have sex with the local “hot girl” when he clearly doesn’t actually have any interest in that? Why is he trying to impress a house full of people by carrying two kegs in? This may be stretching a bit, but I think it’s because he now looks like he looks, and has returned home, Michael Myers style, to take revenge on those that he perceived to have wronged or ignored him. Craig has that weird conversation with him about respecting the Military and I get the impression from “David’s” response that this is a guy he’s always considered to be a piece of shit and a waste of space. I have to imagine the high school bullies remind him of the kids that bullied him when he was in high school, thus explaining his entire relationship with Luke in this movie. If he is indeed Caleb, he’s trying to be the man he wasn’t before he joined the military, repairing his relationships with his family and by doing so repair the family itself, as well as impressing the shit out of, or scaring the shit out of, everyone that he ever considered to have crossed him in some way. He has sex with the “hot girl” because she probably never would’ve given him the time of day previous to this, and now he’s intentionally made himself into a beautiful, highly skilled man. It’s the same reason he’s carrying those kegs into the house. This is Michael Myers with charisma; this is Frankenstein’s monster with charm.
Reading it this way really did make it even more like Halloween than I had already perceived it to be. Like Michael Myers, “David” is a man in a human mask (his is just more realistic than Myers’). He has returned home to tie up loose ends with his family, and specifically seems to have a complicated relationship with his sister. This movie really does use Halloween as its template and then just adds some extra Terminator/Bourne Identity layers to it, almost to somewhat justify the mystical qualities of a Michael Myers like evil and ground him in our reality a little more.
I think there are plenty of other ways to read this film, and that’s part of what is so great about it. On my last viewing I was convinced “David” was a good friend of Caleb’s and Caleb’s final act was to “reprogram” “David” to have a new mission – that of telling the Peterson’s that Caleb loved them and helping them if he can. As a programmable, committed super soldier, he takes his new mission too much to heart as it turns out the Peterson’s need more help than Caleb could’ve ever imagined, resulting in “David” trying to solve problems for them in the only ways he knows how. And then when he’s finally caught, he’s forced to turn on them and terminate them in order to achieve his overall mission, which is simply to remain anonymous and survive, as Major Carver explains. So, I think this is just one of those great texts that provides plenty of information, but little explanation, and allows us to take from it what we will.
I’m curious if anyone else has seen The Guest and read it in a similar way? Does anyone have further support for my assertion that “David” is actually Caleb, returned home to reconnect with his family and take revenge on his town, only to have his psychosis/programming take over and kill everyone, family included? Does anyone think they have definitive evidence that this can’t be true?
I LOVE THIS MOVIE! WATCH IT!
The Guest scored: ★★★★★ (out of 5)