The Perfect Host Blu-ray ReviewAugust 22, 2011
The Perfect Host is a film that had the potential to revive the difficult and rare art form that is the black comedy.
Unfortunately, that potential has been wasted.
The film begins with John (Clayne Crawford) on the lam after a bank robbery that netted him $300,000. With every cop in Los Angeles looking for him – and a gunshot wound in his foot, to boot – John cons his way into the home of Warwick (David Hyde Pierce), an affluent and accommodating fellow who's preparing for a dinner party.
John manages to avoid being stung by Warwick finding holes in his story, but when a radio broadcast blows John's cover, Warwick becomes a prisoner in his own house. But as the tension builds and John becomes more agitated, the tables are quickly turned, and Warwick is revealed to be a delusional psychopath who decides to make John an extra guest at the party.
But (as there often is in films these days), there's a twist: Except for John, all of the party's guests are figments of Warwick's imagination. Additionally, there's a long tradition of last-minute guests at Warwick's parties who never leave the celebration.
For the bulk of the picture, The Perfect Host manages to skillfully walk the line between black satire and torture porn. Unfortunately, the story takes one turn too many and loses focus, which costs the film its twisted, demented charm.
When The Perfect Host takes a turn from crime drama to black comedy, it's jarring and excitingly funny. But at the end of the second act, it turns back into a crime drama and sacrifices all of its momentum.
The Perfect Host, from writer/director Nick Tomnay, began life as a 36-minute short entitled The Host, which Tomnay wrote and directed in 1998. About seventy minutes in, it becomes clear that Tomnay simply did not have enough story to stretch into a 90-minute feature film.
Essentially, there's really only an hour's worth of movie here. For an hour it's a story about the desperation of a society to make its desires and aspirations real, no matter how far from reality they might be.
The rest is padding; it becomes bland stuffing that adds no flavor to the story and drains almost all of the energy, a flaw that's sure to drag an audience's attention away.
Throughout the film, John flashes back to the immediate events that led up to his predicament, a touch that lends real sympathy to the character, a rarity for a film with torture porn elements. But it's those flashbacks and their expansion into the story that leads the movie to come to a grinding halt.
The performances from the two leads, Pierce and Crawford, carry the majority of the film. Crawford does an excellent job of switching gears from perpetrator to victim and presents a true sense of urgency once it becomes clear that John's chances of leaving Warwick's party alive are less than good.
As good as Crawford is, though, this picture belongs to David Hyde Pierce. He brings a disturbing intensity to Warwick but never loses sight of the inherent humor in the film's premise.
Pierce made a name for himself in a big way with his role as Niles Crane on television's Frasier, a part for which he won four Emmy awards. And while most actors would exert every bit of energy they had to completely shed the image of that role for which they're most known, Pierce flamboyantly embraces his association with the neurotic Dr. Crane.
Even when the humor bleeds away from the piece, Pierce maintains a shred of satirical wit that keeps some sparks of life in the film.
Magnolia Pictures brings The Perfect Host to Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. The film looks great despite there being only one primary setting in the picture, which is Warwick's house. The house is packed with soft whites and tans, and yet Warwick and his colorful (imaginary) friends' movements through the house come across with terrific grace.
There's some grain and a moderate amount of noise, which is understandable and forgivable considering the film's indie roots.
As for the audio, it comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that is somewhat wasted on such a modest film. The movie is all about slow burn, and yet it's been given a sound mix designed for a massive explosion, which causes a bit of undesirable sensory overload during some of the more intense scenes.
The dialogue is crystal clear, even in bustling party scenes (hey, just because the guests are all in Warwick's head doesn't mean the party's not bustling), but there's little to distract from the fact that too much power has been pumped into the sound mix.
The story's structure almost demands that even the more tension-packed moments be played quietly, and the mix on this disc simply won't allow for subtlety.
Beyond the Feature
Making of 'The Perfect Host' with Writer/Director Nick Tomnay (11:14) – A sit-down interview with Tomnay that covers the film's journey from conception to completion. The writer/director covers all aspects of production and touches on its birth as a short film (a subject that warranted a little more attention, I think). This is by no means an uninteresting feature, but the production values are sickeningly low, evidenced by the echo-filled audio.
HDNet: A Look at 'The Perfect Host' (4:16) – This is little more than a plot synopsis and some shilling from David Hyde Pierce. Skip it.
Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
Also From Magnolia Entertainment – The same four trailers you'll see at the beginning of the disc: Good Neighbors, Troll Hunter, 13 Assassins, and Hobo with a Shotgun.
This is a film that had a great deal of momentum running through its first two acts. Indeed, for the first hour, it's an engrossing, hilarious, and frightening nightmare scenario. But with about 30 minutes to go, it just loses steam.
In trying too hard to keep the audience at the edge of its seat, The Perfect Host winds up lulling its guests to sleep.
- Jarson Jarman
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