Film Review – The Perfect Host
I will admit to having a small weakness for David Hyde Pierce. I never really got into Frasier, but I’d occasionally watch to get a little Niles action. And, although I thought he was great in Wet Hot American Summer and other films, I’ve always been curious to see how he would do with a more substantial role. He gets his chance to show a wider range in The Perfect Host, and he doesn’t squander it. It’s an uneven, twisty little film that benefits greatly from his performance, as well as that of fellow actor Clayne Crawford. The two are so enjoyable to watch, we overlook some of the (giant) holes in the script.
Clayne Crawford plays John Taylor, a career criminal who is having a very bad day. He’s just robbed a bank, injured his foot pretty badly, been identified by the cops, had his wallet stolen during someone else’s robbery, and had to ditch his wheels. Nothing is working out for him, and he needs a place to gather his resources where he isn’t likely to be found. He wanders into a nice neighborhood and tries to gain entry to one house by portraying himself as a mugging victim and is denied by a woman (Helen Reddy!) who tricks him into revealing himself as a fraud. He does a little mailbox research at the next house, and informs resident Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce) that he has just come from Australia where he met Warwick’s friend Julia and is in need of some help.
Warwick is hesitant to let John in because he is planning a dinner party, but relents and offers the supposed friend-of-a-friend a glass of wine and an invitation to the festivities. John accepts, and it appears that he may just have found a respite for the evening. Unfortunately, John hears his crime mentioned on the radio, loses his cool, and reveals his hand to Warwick. John is not a nice guy and makes it clear to Warwick that this is his party now. He’s already decided to kill him, John tells him, but he might just change his mind if Warwick can follow instructions. John drinks more wine and passes out because Warwick has been dosing him from the very first glass. This is where things really start to get interesting.
It turns out that Warwick is bat-shit crazy and not afraid to get his hands dirty. He turns the tables on John and things go from bad to worse as the dinner party goes on throughout the evening. John is his prisoner now, and he keeps a little scrapbook with Polaroids that detail what other “guests” have experienced in his home. It’s not pretty, and it becomes more and more likely that Warwick is a serial killer. As John shifts from evil-doer to victim, we feel for his plight. However, as Warwick tells him, he has only himself to blame. He is after all, an uninvited guest. As the movie progresses, new things are revealed and the movie ends not quite where it started. (Yes, I’m being vague. The less you know about this movie, the more fun you will have.)
I enjoyed this film. It’s not particularly deep and its low budget occasionally peeks through, but it carries things off with élan. As I mentioned earlier, it is the performances that make this movie a lot of fun to watch. Clayne Crawford is believable as a guy who has done some pretty bad things, but hasn’t completely sold his soul. There is just enough good guy left that we can sympathize with his plight, even though it’s kind of his own fault that he’s in this predicament. (Although, it’s not like he could have seen this coming.) I might have seen Crawford in something on television before, but if I had, it never registered. He does a credible job here, and deserves more notice.
This is, however, David Hyde Pierce’s movie. He uses what we know about other characters he has played to frame how we initially see Warwick. He’s a fussy guy who throws fancy dinner parties in his very nice house. John makes a comment about Warwick being gay, but in the end, it says more about John’s perceptions of gay men than it does about Warwick’s sexuality. As the evening progresses, Pierce turns our assumptions about Warwick around completely. He is a fussy neat freak, but he’s also a knife-wielding psychopath. The fun is in watching Pierce jump back and forth between the two extremes. This is a black comedy and Pierce runs with it, not afraid to make a ham out of himself. There is an occasional misstep—a film-within-a-film sequence is massively overplayed—but for the most part, Pierce gives it just the right amount of unrestrained glee.
The main problem with this film is that it is a little too clever for its own good. The emphasis on the tricky plot takes place at the expense of motivations and clarity. John’s story is pretty clear; we know why he is doing things and what’s going on. Warwick’s, on the other hand, is kind of a mess. A certain amount of ambiguity to his nature is essential for this film to work. However, it bogs down somewhat in the end; there are a few too many “what just happened” moments. By the time we get to the ending, it’s not as satisfying as if we had understood a few more things about him. But it’s not enough to ruin this movie. This is the first feature film from Nick Tomnay, and it’s a lot of fun. It shows how much can be done with a talented director, good actors, and a budget just big enough to get the movie made. It’s available on DVD and Netflix streaming, and is well worth viewing.
Final Grade: B+