Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Perfect Host (2010)

Director: Nick Tomnay                                   Writers: Nick Tomnay & Krishna Jones
Film Score: John Swihart                               Cinematography: John Brawley
Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Helen Reddy and Megahan Perry

This is a fascinating concept. Get the most nebbish guy imaginable, David Hyde Pierce, and have him trapped in his own home by criminal Clayne Crawford, and then turn the tables, the dinner party tables, that is. The Perfect Host, while not a perfect film, is a perfect idea that hosts a lot of hilarity. Director Nick Tomnay is a commercial editor from Australia and made a short film there called The Host, which won several awards including one from the Seattle International Film Festival. Over the next decade, however, he was persuaded to expand the idea and turn it into a feature length film. Tomnay’s primary motivation during the writing and casting was to be able to subvert audience expectations. With audiences so fine-tuned to the conventions of thrillers and police procedurals, he wanted to make a film that would be surprising and still maintain a sense of reality. He was definitely successful as the film is a rollercoaster ride that not only subverts conventions but uses audience expectations against them to create an incredibly satisfying black comedy.

Clayne Crawford has escaped from a bank robbery in which he injured his foot. His elaborate getaway plan is derailed slightly when he’s in a convenience store, trying to buy disinfectant, and it is held up. He sees his face on the TV news and realizes he needs a place to hide for a while. The first house he tries is the home of Jehovah’s Witness Helen Reddy and, ironically, he can’t get in. Eventually he makes his way to the home of David Hyde Pierce, pretends to be a friend of a friend, and manages to get inside. Pierce is in the process of preparing for a dinner party and is friendly, trying to help Crawford, giving him a glass of wine, and serving him hors d’oeuvres. When Crawford finally springs the news, that he’s planning to kill Pierce unless he does exactly what Crawford wants, it’s actually too late. Crawford, it turns out, picked the wrong house. Crawford soon passes out and when he wakes up at the table he’s tied up and the party has started. Sitting around the table are Tyrees Allen, Cooper Barnes and Indira G. Wilson. The thing is, only Pierce can see them. Very soon in becomes apparent to Crawford that Pierce is crazy. And when he shows him his scrapbook of people he has killed, it’s also apparent to Crawford that he’s never going to get out of the house alive.

At the same time that Pierce’s dinner party is going on, Crawford is having flashbacks to what went on before that day. He is dating a woman who is having medical problems and her operation is what motivated the bank robbery. But things are much more complicated than they seem and the film takes a bunch of left turns before the very satisfying finale. David Hyde Pierce, because of the effeminate associations of his role on Frasier, is an absolutely perfect choice for the role. When the façade cracks and we see the vicious side of him, it is completely unexpected. But he carries it off and makes it infinitely believable. It really gets the film going in a specific direction before the rug gets pulled out from under the audience. Clane Crawford, who looks a bit like a young Ray Liota, is a fairly unknown actor, appearing in a few films and television shows. He does a nice job here as the cocky criminal who believes he has a real wimp on his hands. His character is very interesting because he doesn’t just give up. After some initial pleading to spare his life, the wheels start turning and he begins working the problem to figure out a way of escaping.

The other wonderfully unexpected role is seeing Australian Helen Reddy as Pierce’s nosy neighbor. She had only really done one film early in her career and mostly television guest spots during the seventies. Her performance here suggests that she should be doing more work like this in the future. The other principal actress in the film is Megahan Perry. She plays Crawford’s girlfriend and is terrific in the flashbacks. She has a great look and works well with him. Director Nick Tomnay had only seventeen days to shoot the film and it shows, especially in the exteriors. The vast bulk of the film, however, is shot in Pierce’s house and when it comes to scenes in the police station or on the sidewalks, and especially in the bank, they do feel rushed. But the two-man cast is ultimately the focal point and gives the film the feel of something like Sleuth with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. The Perfect Host is a terrific film from a new filmmaker. It’s fresh and funny and wildly surprising, and well worth checking out.

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