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The Underrated Psychological Thriller Taking Over Netflix

An incredibly underrated thriller is making itself at home on Netflix's Top Ten.

Making its entrance at the number ten spot is The Guest, a 2014 indie picture that came and went relatively unnoticed upon its initial release, but has become a cult classic among a certain subset of film fans. If an atmospheric slow burn built around a creepy mystery featuring a stunning lead performance sounds like a good time, then you're going to want to check it out pronto.

If you ask us, the fact that The Guest is so little-seen is nothing short of a crime. Let's talk pedigree: The flick stars Dan Stevens, an intensely charismatic actor who got his start on the British TV series Downton Abbey before moving on to features and American television. If his face looks familiar, you may recognize him from his lead role on the Fox superhero series Legion.

Among the supporting cast are Maika Monroe, who was so good in the lead in It Follows the same year, and Brendan Meyer, who has recently made an impression as Jesse on the Netflix series The OAThe Guest was written by Simon Barrett, and directed by Adam Wingard — the pair who had previously fielded You're Next, one of the most absolutely bananas home invasion thrillers ever made. They would go on to contribute segments to the first two V/H/S movies and The ABC's of Death (which we love), and also collaborated on the 2016 feature Blair Witch (which, well, we won't hold against them).

This is a film you're definitely going to want to check out, so let's jump in for a little spoiler-free synopsis.

What is The Guest about?

The Guest opens with a family, the Petersons, in mourning. Spencer (Leland Orser, Ray Donovan) and Laura (Sheila Kelley, The Good Doctor) have lost their oldest son, Caleb, who was killed in action fighting in the Afghanistan war. Their surviving children, Anna (Monroe) and Luke (Meyer) are having trouble coping. To make matters worse, Anna is having trouble fitting in at school, and Luke is dealing with bullies.

Into their life comes David (Stevens), a polite and respectful young man who says that he served with Caleb, and that they had become best friends. Laura invites him to stay at their house while he's in town, and David reluctantly accepts the offer.

The kids take to David as well, and he seems keen to help them out with their issues, but the way in which he does, without their parents' knowledge, is just a bit inappropriate. He simply tracks Luke's bullies to a local hangout and beats the crap out of all of them, and takes Anna to a party, where he charms all of her friends. He even rescues Anna's friend Kristen from an abusive boyfriend ... and then sleeps with her. He asks another of Anna's friends, Craig, if he knows of a good place to purchase a gun.

After Craig is mysteriously killed and Anna's boyfriend is arrested for the crime, the girl begins to grow suspicious of David, even as things start to look up for the family — Luke is getting a handle on his bullying problem, and Spencer receives a long-sought promotion. When Anna calls the nearby military base to inquire about David, however, she receives some disturbing news, and begins to suspect even more strongly that their guest is not who he says he is.

Critics adore The Guest

A plot like that could go one of two ways — it could be intense in all the best ways, or it could fizzle out before reaching its full potential. Luckily for The Guest, the former was true. Critics agree that the film is filled to the gills with "darkly violent thrills," backed up by an intelligent script to make for a "treat for genre fans."

The Guest boasts a 91 percent Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it a Certified Fresh flick on the review aggregator. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Robert Abele said of the film, "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 [...] It's Stevens, as the all-American cover-model mercenary both friendly and fatal, who gives The Guest its literally killer personality."

Dazzling reviews for The Guest are all over the 'net, with Rolling Stone's Peter Travers offering a particularly bright, bite-sized take: "It's hellish good fun. Stevens is mesmerizing as the avenger, helping director Adam Wingard turn The Guest into a blast of wicked mirth and malice."

Why have you never heard of The Guest?

By now, you may be thinking, "If people who review films for a living have raved about The Guest, and if a ton of people are streaming it on Netflix, why haven't I heard of it until just now?" One big reason: The film didn't receive a wide release, meaning fewer people saw it when it debuted in 2014.

The Guest made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival 2014, where it blew critics away (obviously) but failed to score a major distributor. Picturehouse, a minor distributor specializing in niche films such as A Prairie Home Companion and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, eventually picked up the rights to the flick in the U.S.

In September 2014, The Guest was given an extremely limited U.S. release. It opened in all of 19 theaters, and never played on more than 53 screens during its entire theatrical run. Globally, the film just barely managed to make back half of its meager $5 million production budget.

With that kind of weak distribution, moviegoers outside of a few select markets never even got the opportunity to catch The Guest while it was in theaters — and while it has surfaced on various VOD and streaming platforms from time to time, general audiences could be forgiven for overlooking the flick due to its nondescript title. Take it from us, though: The Guest deserves to take up permanent residence on your list of favorite thrillers. Funny, thrilling, twisty, and expertly crafted, it'll leave you applauding Barrett and Wingard's handiwork, and wondering why the heck Dan Stevens isn't a much bigger star.