What you expect from a film really paints what you will feel about the film afterward. Whether you are partial to or despise the director or one of the actors, if you’ve heard good or bad reviews from friends, or if you’ve been sucked in or led astray by marketing will already start you with a bias before even one frame has flickered by. I try not to let anything sway me, and to that end, marketing is something that I’m trying to steer away from. Trailers of late have seemed especially poor at delivering the correct message — they tend to promise you one thing when, in reality, the film is going to deliver something completely different. So you walk in expecting a cool glass of champagne but it’s not until you sit down and drink that you realize you were served a tangy cup of lemonade. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth to finish the allegory. I start off with this explanation to lay all my cards on the table. I want you to know that my distaste for The Perfect Host may have originally stemmed from expecting something different then what I received. Hopefully, in this way, I can tell you exactly what you’re in for and save you from the same fate.
Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce) is the consummate host. He carefully prepares for a dinner party — the table is impeccably set and the duck perfectly timed for 8:30 PM. John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is a career criminal. He’s just robbed a bank and needs to get off the streets. He finds himself on Warwick’s doorstep posing as a friend of a friend, new to Los Angeles, who’s been mugged and lost his luggage. As the wine flows and the evening progresses, we become deeply intertwined in the lives of these two men and discover just how deceiving appearances can be. Cowriter/director Nick Tomnay takes us on a suspense-filled ride where nothing is as it seems. The Perfect Host is a slippery psychological thriller that exposes true human nature and reveals just how far we’re willing to go to satisfy our needs.
So read the synopsis I was sent. This is what I went off of and this is what threw me off because what I got was only a “slippery psychological thriller” for the first 20 minutes. After that it went from thriller to David Hyde Pierce chewing and spitting out scenery in pure blissful insanity. Which would have been fine, but it was not thrilling; it was spectacle, it was affected, it was camp — it was David Hyde Pierce dancing on a tabletop to Rose Royce’s Car Wash. Enjoyable, yes, but not thrilling. In order for proceedings to be thrilling I have to care about one or both of the people involved. If I don’t care, then people could be found out, maimed and killed, and I would be bored out of my mind because I have no one to root for. That said, neither these actors nor the inelegant script they were working with garnered any empathy. Mr. Crawford, looking like a young Ray Liotta, was too boorish and brute a character to care about and any sympathy Pierce garnered went away quickly after the first reveal happens. I’m assuming that most of you already know at least one of the so-called twists of the film just by reading the synopsis, but in case you don’t, the film gets it out of the way within the first act so you won’t have to wait too long.
What really upsets me is that they took what could have easily been an excellent thriller — on par with Hitchcock’s Rope — and decided to take the easy way out instead. They had quickly and easily set up a situation fraught with tension and then just frittered it all away. You will, however, get a litany of unnecessary twists at the end of the film, I guess for good measure, but for me by then, it was too little, too late. The film could also have ended a few times before it did and in far better ways then it actually did, but it felt like the writers wanted to leave nothing to the imagination and instead decided to spell it all out to the point of tedium.
Go into The Perfect Host then, not expecting to get a thriller but instead expecting to marvel at David Hyde Pierce as he lets his freak flag fly. He really pulls out all the stops. Clayne Crawford also puts in a decent performance and does the best he can with what he’s given. Don’t expect a whole lot of gore either, (some may see the poster and think that it bends toward the horror angle — it doesn’t). What you get here is a couple of good actors with a script that needed a few more rewrites.