Friday, October 7, 2011

The Perfect Host

The Perfect Host feels a lot like its plot: a party that promised to be crazy but didn't deliver, and no one was actually there at all.
The Perfect Host is about career criminal John (Clayne Crawford) who has just pulled off a bank job and is looking for a place to lay low. He manipulates his way into the home of wealthy man-about-town Warwick (David Hyde Pierce--Niles from Frasier) who is planning a dinner party. But the dinner party, and Warwick, turns out to be not quite what it seems, and John is at the mercy of a lonely, imaginative lunatic.

It turns out that all of Warwick's party guests are not real; only figments of his imagination. During the early stages of the "party" Warwick shows John a scrapbook of former guests who suffered the same fate that John is promised to suffer, which appears to be that of a grisly death. These two things really open the flood gates to dozens of questions. Are all of Warwick's party guests, numbering over twenty, his former victims? If all of the other party guests are imagined, is it possible that John himself is also only an illusion of Warwick's mind? What horrible fate awaits John come morning?

Unfortunately, all these exciting and tantalizing questions are either breezed over and unanswered, or the the answer is completely inconsequential and disappointing. The metaphysical questions as to the nature of Warwick's "guests" and why he imagines them, and why these specific people, is never addressed at all. The only answer the audience can deduce from the information in the film is that Warwick is just weird and lonely, and the appearances, names and personalities of his imagined friends are simply arbitrary.

It is also revealed that all of John's injuries were faked; deceptions created by Warwick with make-up and prosthetics to scare John. All that ultimately happens to John is that he gets tied up, drugged and punched once or twice. Any fear the audience felt for Warwick is evaporated once it's realized that he's not really capable of any sort of bodily harm to John or anyone else. The worst he can do to anyone is make them feel uncomfortable, but no more uncomfortable than being at a lame party that no one showed up to.

There's also no hint of a character arc in the film, and the events of the film don't seem likely to leave a lasting impression on any character in the film. John isn't likely to change his criminal ways, and Warwick isn't about to stop torturing people through awkwardness. In fact, the films ends with Warwick inviting his coworker, a fellow cop, by the way, over for another dinner party, the all-too-clichéd ending that screams "set up for a sequel."

The film doesn't have much in the way of a climax either. The moment closest to a climax is when Warwick stops John at the gates of a parking garage when John's trying to escape with the money from the bank job. And Warwick just lets him go very amicably; he even gives him some cash to help him get through customs and into Mexico. Warwick doesn't try to silence John in any way, and John doesn't seek revenge in any way; they just part ways. Later on John tries to expose Warwick for what he is in about the most cowardly way possible, by mailing a photo to the police station from hundreds of miles away.

One of the few things the film does have going for it, though, is Pierce's performance. At first he is genuinely discomforting, especially with his exaggerated gait, and his repartee with John is quite interesting, knowing that each of them has a deep secret to hide. Also the set design is very good, giving the illusion of Warwick as sophisticated and classy.

Unfortunately, the second half of the film does not in any way live up to all the intrigue established in the first half. Warwick is unconvincing as a psychopath capable of causing any damage greater than boringness and awkwardness, and John isn't convincing as his role of a hardened, street-wise career criminal either. The film is ultimately a fancy strip club: that is a nice-looking cock tease filled with one-dimensional characters and no pay off.

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