It’s nice now and then to be surprised a bit by a movie. They say there are only a handful of plots that are rotated and transformed into various films so when something original comes along it’s a treat. THE PERFECT HOST is one of those movies.
John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) is on the run. He’s just robbed a bank of over $300,000, is wounded and the police know his name and are showing his picture on the news. Now he needs a place to hide until things cool off.
Trying one house in an affluent area of LA he’s rebuffed by a Jehovah’s Witness (Helen Reddy) who keeps him out of her house. Checking the mailbox next door for some insight into who lives there, he meets Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce). Spinning a tale that he’s just back from Australia where he met Warwick’s friend Julia, he asks to use his phone to reach his cousin for assistance since he’s been mugged.
Preparing for dinner guests, Warwick allows John to use his phone and launches into a discussion about Julia. He dresses for his guests and all goes along smoothly until John, while trying to listen to the news about his robbery, loses his cool and threatens Warwick. And this is where things begin to change. It seems that Warwick had been giving John red wine that was drugged to drink and now the tables turn.
In a normal film this is where the victim would call the police, the criminal would threaten him and then later escape to insure his threat. But here we have John wake to find himself tied to a chair at the dinner table while Warwick attempts to introduce him to the party guests who have arrived. The problem is that all the guests are there in Warwick’s mind only.
As the night progresses a game of cat and mouse fluctuates between these two characters. John is given an insight into what the night holds in store for him as Warwick takes his picture with a Polaroid and then shows him a scrapbook that he keeps. Each page has a picture taken of someone else. Could it be that John has landed in the home of a serial killer? And what are the chances that he will live past this night?
The movie is a great combination of mystery, suspense and dark humor as the night goes on, the party in full swing (at least in Warwick’s mind) and John looking for the opportunity to escape. Occasional moments are there for him to do so, but one might guess that Warwick planned them that way to make the night more entertaining.
Pierce does a fantastic job as Warwick, a demented soul that seems like a combination of the Niles Crane character he portrayed so well on FRASIER, Hannibal Lecter and Elwood P. Dowd. He’s fussy about his home, deadly to the extreme and able to see folks who aren’t really there. When pieced together they make him a dangerous and unstable person to be around. A twist that I won’t reveal towards the end makes him even more unusual if that’s possible.
Crawford does a great job as well, keeping up with Pierce as he goes from a menacing to a sympathetic character. We didn’t see the robbery from the start and never really see the entire thing, but with flashbacks we get to find out his reasons for the robbery, noble though faulted they might be. Before the night is over we hope he escapes, we hope he can find a way out of this nightmare and the city.
The twist that comes when prey becomes hunter is a nice one but it doesn’t stop there. As the night winds down another twist comes across. And then this one is followed by yet a third twist and the fourth twist that makes the whole story unusual, funny and keeps you waiting for the final moments to see how it plays out. And as the final credits are about to roll, you wonder just what will happen afterwards. The answer isn’t offered but various possibilities come to mind.
THE PERFECT HOST is an interesting and unusual movie more for fans of dark humor and of David Hyde Pierce. Both have something to offer here and will keep you guessing until the movie fades to black.
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