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THE GUEST: 3 ½ STARS. “I haven’t been completely honest with you.”

120103_galWhen someone says, “I haven’t been completely honest with you,” it’s usually followed by something like, “I’m not really 39 years old,” or “Red is not my natural colour.” When David (“Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens), a mysterious soldier who shows up on the Peterson family’s doorstep claiming to be a friend of their late son, says it, it means all hell is about to break loose.

When the Peterson’s first meet David he seems like a good guy. He calls Spencer (Leland Orser) and Laura (Sheila Kelley) Peterson sir and ma’am, and is very protective of sister Anna (Maika Monroe) and troubled son Luke (Brendan Meyer). Perhaps too protective. When people in town start dying Anna becomes suspicious and starts asking questions whose answers come with a heavy price.

The gap between the genteel environs of “Downton Abbey” to the dusty underbelly of the heartland of America is a wide one but Stevens makes the leap. As David he is completely at ease with the unease of his character. His wicked smile (which usually precedes a flurry of fists or bullets) and his unfailing good manners make him the most unsettling of villains, the guy who smiles while people die around him.

He’s the beating heart of the story. If the character of David didn’t work, then neither would the movie. There are some cool set pieces—the climax takes place in a homemade fun house maze, complete with dry ice, mirrors and mazes—and enough action to keep things rocketing along, but it is the character and his complex relationship with the world that makes “The Guest” compelling.

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