NBFF Review: The Perfect Host

I feel like I have done something wrong in picking out films to watch during the 12th Annual Newport Beach Film Festival.  Besides my initial screening, every film that I have seen so far has been very good.  Wednesday night, May 4, 2011, was no different, as I got to watch another highly entertaining feature.  This time it was an offbeat thriller, The Perfect Host, in which a criminal cons his way into the house of a man planning to throw a dinner party, only to have the tables turned on him in the worst possible way. Offbeat is certainly the right word to use, but it is also tense, darkly comedic, well put together, and a fresh take on a premise that is somewhat familiar.  It also features a strong performance from David Hyde Pierce, who has clearly set out to challenge himself.  Very strong film, all the way around.

Warwick:  You can’t kill me, I’m having a dinner party.

The film begins with John (Clayne Crawford), an injured criminal, currently on the run after dropping off a large sum of money he has stolen in a bank robbery.  As police are currently tracking him down, John needs to get off the streets.  He soon finds himself in front of the home of Warwick (David Hyde Pierce).  Posing as a friend of a friend, John claims to have recently arrived in Los Angeles, but lost his luggage at the airport in the process, and was mugged during his travel, leaving him with only the option of contacting Warwick.  Warwick finds the story convincing enough to let John into his home, despite plans to host a dinner party in an hour’s time.

[Note: Since the film’s theatrical trailer (let alone some of my pictures) gives away a key twist that is revealed early on, I am going to say skip the following paragraph if you really want to stay in the dark on the first surprise.]

Following a few glasses of wine, John and Warwick soon hear about John’s own infamy on the radio, leading to John giving up the act and revealing his true nature to Warwick.  However, Warwick has his own surprise for John, as a reversal is pulled and John finds himself at the mercy of Warwick’s own insane game.  Now trapped inside the house of a sophisticated and fun-loving sociopath, John has now become the featured guest of the night.

Knowing very little about this movie going in, the film pulled the rug out from under me several times, which I appreciated.  Even in the handling of the first twist, which I sort of saw coming, I was still caught off guard in the way that it was handled.  It was not a matter of the film tricking me, but the fact that it was carefully constructed to have me in a certain level of comfort, only to reveal a completely different layer, which I respected the film for.  I have seen similar films use the same kind of setups and reveals, some working better than others, but this film was easily a very good example of how to properly handle key story twists in a small scale thriller.

Also key to this film is the performance by David Hyde Pierce, who does a fantastic job at playing a seriously creepy individual.  He has all the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of a character that Pierce could be seen playing at any other time, only to add a completely new and, in many ways, terrifying layer to his persona.  Everything he does in this film seems perfectly set to Pierce’s skills as an actor, but this additional aspect does so in a fascinatingly creepy manner.  The way he reveals his true intentions and expresses this other side of himself to the helpless John character is both thrilling and intriguing to watch.

Clayne Crawford is also good in this film.  He has to play a character that we are not too sure about, but cannot help to sympathize with, as he is forced to deal with something much worse than he could have ever imagined.  It also helps that he is given a certain amount of level-headedness that works its way into the story enough to keep things lively between Warwick and himself, without putting the film into territory that feels too ridiculous.  The film also goes to the lengths of incorporating some flashbacks to better establish why John ended up in his predicament, which are well utilized.

Writer/director Nick Tomnay does a solid job at creating a tense ride that keeps you guessing.  The majority of the film is set within Warwick’s house and Tomnay does a great job at keeping the setting fresh throughout.  The way he captures the “out there” quality of Warwick is also effectively handled.  Tomnay must deal with a certain… imaginary aspect to Warwick, which manages to do justice to how we view this character, how he sees things from within his own mind, and how John views everything.  The filmmaking is well handled to match the film’s ambitions.  This keeps the film interesting, adds the darkly comic layer, but also functions to maintain that offbeat layer of tension, which really does a great favor to the film.

The film is short enough that it does not outstay its welcome.  While one may have to forgive a number of conveniences required in order to accept the way things all play out in the end, I think the energy of the film is high enough where it should not really matter.  Along with the initial twist, there are a lot of reveals that pile on towards the end of the film, which managed to not overwhelm what the film was trying to accomplish.  Instead, it becomes a tense journey that continues to challenge its characters and deliver a suitably on edge experience for the audience.

I have failed to mention this for other films, but being that I saw this film at the film festival, it should be noted that a majority of these films won’t actually be hitting regular screens until they find distributors.  The Perfect Host is actually a film that has gone through all the motions and toured around at enough festivals to have found a distributor, which means it will be available OnDemand and in theaters in the near future.  This is good news, as the film is very good.  It creates a very tense atmosphere, while still managing to hit some darkly comic beats.  Best of all, it has David Hyde Pierce showing an all new facet of his talents, which should not be missed.

Warwick:  Is everyone not enjoying themselves?

John:  I can speak for everyone here, but I’m having a great time.

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website, and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week for more of my coverage of the festival.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

1 Response to “NBFF Review: The Perfect Host”

  1. Brian White

    I think I would like this one!