I'm a sucker for claustrophobic thrillers -- movies like Red Eye, the original Sleuth, and Hard Candy that revolve almost entirely around two characters who are trapped together and are constantly trying to get the upper hand on one another. Not only does The Perfect Host pull that off brilliantly, but it has a dementedly dark comedic streak at the same time. It's tense, it's suspenseful, it's cacklingly funny, and it's fucked up and then some. I'm a little reluctant to write too much about the movie since the more I say, the more I run the risk of revealing some really key twists. So, yeah, bear with me as I try to sidestep any spoilers.
Straight off the bat, the casting is pitch-perfect. David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford both radiate a certain personality that you think you can completely pin down at a glance -- Crawford playing that heavily tattooed thug while Pierce takes on a harmless,
The Perfect Host is teeming with some really depraved twists I never saw coming. The further and further along the movie goes, though, the twists seem to be unearned "gotcha!"s, shoving in a few particularly shocking moments to catch the audience off-guard and then immediately mashing the Reset button since The Perfect Host has written itself into a corner. Like a lot of these movies, the best stuff is always the head-to-head physical and psychological torment, and when The Perfect Host gets distracted by the story, my interest kind of waned. There are some dangling subplots about what prompted John to knock over a bank as well as a police investigation into the robbery, and at first those seem like filler but become increasingly significant as the movie screams along. The way all of those plot points collide is pretty unsatisfying and feels too far removed from what The Perfect Host does best. It's not that the third act is bad, exactly -- it's ridiculous and kind of fun -- but it feels like something out of a completely different movie, and too many of the shocks and surprises come across as twists-for-twists'-sake. Still, I love the holy hell out of the first hour so much that it more than makes up for the shaky finalé. Very highly recommended as a rental; still Recommended as a purchase, especially with the compelling price point Magnolia sets for their day-and-date Blu-ray discs.
The Perfect Host was shot with the RED One camera, and the digital photography has that tell-tale look to it: somewhat flat contrast, generally
There is no matting on The Perfect Host, and the full 1.78:1 image has been encoded with AVC. Despite the lean bitrate -- the hour and a half movie and its lossless audio combined take up all of 16 gigs -- no compression artifacting ever caught my attention. It follows that The Perfect Host arrives on a single-layer disc.
The Perfect Host's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is fairly straightforward. Bass response and use of the surround channels almost entirely revolve around the score -- a terrific blend of throbbing electronica and the sort of stabbing strings that'd make Bernard Herrmann proud. Dialogue is understandably the focal point of the mix, and it generally comes through cleanly and clearly, although the recording does sound somewhat hollow in a few scattered scenes. Even for a movie with a claustrophobic setting -- where its two central characters are hardly ever more than a few feet apart -- the audio doesn't establish a particularly strong sense of place. It does feel as if The Perfect Host was mixed primarily with stereo in mind, but even though the audio is nothing noteworthy or even a little bit ambitious, it still does the job well enough.
No dubs, alternate mixes, or audio commentaries this time around. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and French.
The Final Word
The Perfect Host strikes this odd, wonderful balance between genuine suspense and cacklingly dark comedy. It's a daunting task for two actors to shoulder a movie essentially by themselves in a single location, but David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford are more than up for the challenge, with both turning in very strong and very compelling performances. I do think the movie starts to fall apart towards the end -- kind of like Red Eye before it, the bigger it tries to be, the clumsier it all starts to feel -- but the first hour is so great that it more than makes up for the scattershot finalé. The Perfect Host is uneven, sure, but this darkly comedic thriller is still well-worth seeking out. Recommended.