I’m not especially big on horror movies, but I’m rapidly becoming a fan of director Adam Wingard (and screenwriter Simon Barrett) for their understated gore and the way they’re able to take familiar setups and tweak them just enough to keep me guessing. They did the darkly amusing You’re Next, which turned the home invasion trope on its head.
This time a man appears at the Peterson home claiming to be an army best-bud of the family’s dead-in-combat son. This manipulative, magnetic character is disarmingly polite and has the uncanny ability to be what he needs to be for each family member. He helps young Luke (Brendan Meyer) with a bullying problem and gets rid of teenage Anna’s (Maika Monroe) deadbeat boyfriend for her. But the man’s a brooding time bomb.
The title role is complex and subtle, and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens absolutely nails it. The first half of the movie is a fascinating slow burn, as the filmmakers tap into Americans’ collective guilt, fear and rage, with a subversive political subtext and hints of the violence to come once the film makes its inevitable pivot to the hilariously contrived finale. Nice use of a synth score. (99 min)