A Venn diagram of “Downton Abbey” watchers and lovers of ‘80s-era exploitation cinema might not show a big overlap, yet one of the many pleasures of director Adam Wingard’s tough, fun thriller “The Guest” is seeing Matthew Crawley — er, British actor Dan Stevens — serve up a mesmerizing star turn of psycho charm.
Crafted as a dirty-sexy-funny homage to the vise-grip corkers that marked John Carpenter’s and James Cameron’s indie heyday, “The Guest” stars Stevens as a mysterious blue-eyed drifter-soldier who appears at the house of the grieving Peterson family as a consoling combat-mate of their dead son.
His methods of ingratiation, however — including defense training for their bullied son Luke (Brendan Meyer) and bad-boyfriend counseling for teenage daughter Anna (Maika Monroe) — go hand-in-hand with some suspiciously violent activity. It sparks Anna to investigate his past, with perilous results for their small town.
Wingard and writer Simon Barrett showed cheeky genre chops with last year’s slasher romp “You’re Next,” and here, they tighten the screws further on their mix of black humor and disreputable thrills, dealing dumb, smart and even sneakily political in all the right places. (The pulsating wall of vintage synth is a hoot, too.)
But it’s Stevens, as the all-American cover-model mercenary both friendly and fatal, who gives “The Guest” its literally killer personality. Someone needs to find out whether he can sing and dance, too.