This excellent thriller posits a subtle moral question: If the military programs killers, are they to blame when they kill…even civilians? From the team that gave us another excellent horror film, You’re Next, comes a tale of a charming, handsome guy who shows up at the Peterson’s house claiming to be a close military friend of their deceased son who had died in action. David is charming, polite, and definitely not hard on the eyes (played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens). David is invited to stay and things for the family start to change.
David seems to be behind giving the bullied little brother confidence to stand up for himself. Suddenly the man who got the father’s promotion dies and the dad gets it. David helps Mom around the house. David is a sympathetic ear for the daughter who is secretly dating a guy her parents disapprove of because he deals drugs. It’s a great set up…only we know something’s not right.
I am amazed at how long the film was able to make David (a murdering psychopath…albeit one programed by the military...as we find out) a sympathetic character. This film totally plays on ever symbolic code for character we have. Good guy: Handsome, charming, polite, sexy white guy. Bad guy: Black guy, authoritative, military, curt, secretive.
If you look at archetypes, David is the Catalyst hero. He doesn’t change much, but everything around him changes. Most heroes make use of external mentors (another archetype), but David has his own internal code or beliefs that have been programed into him by a military experiment. It’s this information of the experiment that allows the viewer to continue to sympathize with David as we see him mercilessly and without remorse kill person after person. Our sympathy does, however, end at a certain point after he kills a particular character that we can all agree did nothing but trust him.
It’s David’s ambiguous moral status that both intrigues and horrifies us as we know we would have taken him in as well. That’s the strength of this film. Its makers know how to play on the codes of character that we have been programmed with since childhood. We see David more as The Iron Giant, a gun with a soul, a man who feels bad about what he does, but is incapable of stopping himself. His lines to the little brother at the end are poignant and feel spot on.
This film is an excellent thriller and should be watched! It's also an excellent example of the Catalyst Archetype!