Is it really that much of a stretch envisioning David Hyde Pierce as a psychopath or serial killer? When I think of the actor, of course, the first thing that comes to mind is Niles Crane, Frasier's more straight-laced, obsessive little brother. Think about Niles for a minute. He has a wife, Maris, who is never seen on the show, despite being an almost episodic mention, to whom he has a subservient relationship. If it weren't for the other characters in the series, one could presume he's truly psychotic right there with an imaginary wife, as there would be no other proof of her existence and his constant references to her. He's prone to emotional or nervous breakdowns, and is second fiddle in everyone's mind but his own. He holds himself to such a high standard that he looks down on others without even knowing it. He's the kind of guy who'd raid the family caretaker's drawers seeking to make trophies of her undergarments (if only he had the daring to do so, subservient as he is), who only acts impulsive so as to counter those who say he isn't. He's capable of snapping at any moment. If he could only be his own psychiatrist, he wouldn't have the need for any other patients. Now, take that next step forward: what if Niles Crane were, in fact, insane, hiding behind the facade that is his expensive wardrobe and seemingly timid behavior?
The second I saw the trailer for 'The Perfect Host,' I couldn't help but envision these things. It's hard to not correlate the man with his most famous role, as he still looks the part years later, with so few film and television roles in between, so few that he seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth, to reappear every now and again for an amazing voice acting performance ('The Amazing Screw-On Head,' anyone?). Sure, he's been on stage, but since when does that count? He keeps himself out of the news, only popping up due to his marriage in 2008. He's Niles Crane to the world, even seven years after the show aired its final episode. So why not indulge in the general incapability of separating the man from his character? Why not go into this film thinking about that long standing relationship, in the stead of his new character, Warwick Wilson, who isn't that far removed from our old friend.
Strangely enough, the trailer made me want to see the film badly, and yet, I probably would have enjoyed 'The Perfect Host' had I gone in blind.
A bank robbery in the morning, liquor store robbery in the afternoon, and hostage taking in the evening all have one thing in common: the presence and/or participation of John Taylor (Clayne Crawford). With a laceration on his foot slowing the criminal down, he's seeking a place to take refuge, a house foolish enough to let him in to hide and recover. Warwick may have a dinner party in the evening, but when John uses Warwick's mail to make up a false relationship with the mailer of a postcard, it would only be too rude to leave him out in the elements. As the pair feign pleasantries and size the other up, soon the pleasantries end and John threatens to ruin Warwick's party...or just kill him. That would ruin the party, too. However, there's something under the surface of Warwick, something dangerous, something insane.
'The Perfect Host' reminds me far too much of 'Red Eye,' the suspense thriller with Cillian Murphy and Rachel McAdams. Both have strangers meeting in a very confined setting, with there being more at work than initially meets the eye. More relevantly: both work their magic best when staying in their unique, limited environments, and stumble when the settings are opened up. 'Red Eye' never needed to leave the plane, and 'The Perfect Host' really should have ended some twenty to thirty minutes sooner than it did, before it, too, branched out. This is where writer/director Nick Tomnay comes in. See, he already made a short film called 'The Host,' featuring characters under the same names some ten years ago. Now he has a chance to return to his first filmmaking experience and flesh it out from its 25 minute origins, and in doing so, he falls into one of the oldest traps out there by going too far with his work, rather than keeping it in its niche.
The film itself works surprisingly well up until around the hour mark. The opening with John, the escaping bank robber, is interesting, giving the opening hooks, establishing the desperation that would drive his later actions. As soon as he enters Warwick's home, the film stops playing it straight, stops the fancy cutting, and creates genuine tension and urgency in the escalating situation between the two men. The banter back and forth before intentions are revealed on either side of the conversation is intriguing, and you only get the slightest hints that something isn't quite right, before the whole film turns on its ear with the introduction of the party guests. This is where Pierce shines. After witnessing his guest attempt to lie and manipulate, he shows the youngin' how it's done proper, with expertly crafted manipulations and stunningly out of character actions. The bipolarity on display is a real hoot, as you have the man demanding his guest be polite and proper, yet there he is, delivering a few knockout blows with gusto.
While the trailer for the film may reveal prematurely what the main twist to the film is, I don't think it would be appropriate to discuss it in this review. I will say that it is handled surprisingly well, and is beyond humorous, making it impossible to not laugh at some of the more ridiculous or insane moments, as the bar is constantly elevated on exactly how far Pierce is willing to take his performance. It's really hilarious, as his line delivery and odd twitches sell the role fantastically, the dialogue offers some real gems at times. That's what made the experience a bit frustrating for me. 'The Perfect Host' has everything going for it, and instead of prolonging it, we delve into another plot, one that just doesn't fit the Warwick character properly, even if it's appropriate for John. The film is titled after Warwick, he's the top billed actor and featured character on all publicity and product for this film, so it's a shame that the final act of the film really doesn't capitalize properly on all the time spent developing his role and all its little insane mannerisms. Others may find the change of scenery welcome, but I truly feel this is a film that is at its best when the cast is minimized, the characters thrown to each other to scrap it out and see who can outwit the other. In the end, this film tries to regain that portion of its sensibilities, but it already disassociated itself far too much for it to work properly.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Perfect Host,' released by Magnolia, comes to Blu-ray on a BD25 disc that is Region A marked. There are nine minutes worth of pre-menu trailers (including one featuring Jay Baruchel as a potential serial rapist...that sounds interesting), but they are skippable as a whole through the top menu button. The menu itself has a small portion with a video loop, but features an annoying audio sample. When the song finally plays in the film, after hearing it for a few minutes on the menu typing out the specs, I just wanted to press the mute button.
Filmed with the Red One Camera system, 'The Perfect Host' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I've been wowed by this camera before, and more than a few films that were somewhat less than stellar became titles I'd keep regardless, due to picture quality. Strangely enough, I wasn't as wowed here as I have been in the past, but I still think this is a fine looking disc.
Detail levels are phenomenal, skin tones constant and perfect, with a picture boasting beautifully crisp, sharp colors and fantastic depth constantly. It's hard to complain about the perfect black levels or the manner in which shadows don't eat a single bit of detail. Textures are genuine and beyond believable. The strengths of this disc really are where it counts most. I'll admit, the blown out contrast in some sequences was a tad annoying, but potentially intentional. What bothered me, though, was the few odd shots, mostly in exteriors, where suddenly the picture went all to hell, with a massive drop in quality and a heavy grit. These moments are few and far between, and short, but hard to miss. My other concern is the fact that edges randomly look enhanced, a tad exaggerated.
When viewing this film and not nitpicking, which I was forced to do, I highly doubt 'The Perfect Host' will dismay any viewers. It isn't the best looking disc to come from a Red One production, but it still deserves high praise.
The lone audio option on 'The Perfect Host' is a very nice lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that doesn't conform to genre norms. This film may be mostly a cat and mouse thriller, or at least a thinly veiled mockery of one, but it doesn't speak using bedroom voices here. Dialogue never gets drowned out, and I know, that sounds weird, but there are other elements in play in this one, including a nice soundtrack that hits all angles, and has some crazy strong bass at times that can really surprise you. Dynamics are pitch perfect, clarity is spot on, range unchecked. Rear activity could have been a bit more active, and that's the only reason this release isn't getting a higher score, as more than a few scenes had me wanting a bit more of a full room presence from the quirky film.
Again, no one will be disappointed.
'The Perfect Host' is an interesting little film, one that tries too hard to be too much, and suffers as a consequence. It strives when dealing with the insanity of its lead, the wonderful David Hyde Pierce, who carries the entire show with his ticks and body language. His table manners are hilarious, his bipolarity dubious, his borderline hallucinations an eye opening experience. For an hour, this film is pretty darn great. Magnolia's Blu-ray release isn't heavy on extras, but has pretty darn good presentation qualities, enough so that a blind buy may not be out of the question. However, since this film is definitely in the realm of love it or hate it, a rental first may not be a bad thing for those not sold on the trailer.