Winston Churchill once said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” So, too, is The Perfect Host, a Sundance 2010 selection by filmmaker Nick Tommay which premieres on video-on-demand on May 27 and opens in theaters July 1, 2011.
On the surface, the story in this psychological thriller is straight forward. Warwick Wilson, played by David Hyde Pierce (Dr. Niles Crane in Frasier), carefully prepares for a dinner party, the table impeccably set and the duck perfectly timed for 8:30 p.m. John Taylor (played by Clayne Crawford, One Blood Planet, 24 – Katee Sackhoff’s boyfriend in 2010 season) is a career criminal who’s just robbed a bank and needs to get off the street. Taylor talks himself into Warwick’s home, posing as a friend of a friend, new to Los Angeles, who’s been mugged and lost his luggage.
As the evening progresses riddles, mysteries and enigmas unfold, convolute and twist again. The roles of protagonist and antagonist flip back and forth as each of the lead characters plays mind games and tricks on one another. The dinner party unfolds like none you’ve ever seen and includes my favorite line from the film: ”You can’t kill me, I’m having a dinner party.”
David Hyde Pierce does an incredible job creating a character who channels Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle filtered through La Cage aux Folles and A Beautiful Mind. Don’t think about that too hard; you’ll understand after you’ve seen this engrossing film.
Clayne Crawford’s performance is also top notch. He creates sympathy for a totally unsympathetic character. We see that even a professional bank robber can have a bad day and be cursed by a crazy girlfriend. The gir friend is played seductively and manipulatively by Internet diva Megahn Perry (Hate My 30’s, The Gravedancers).
The project was a long time in gestation for writer-director (and editor) Tommay, who shares writing credits with collaborator Krishna Jones. It originated as a short film, The Host, set in Tommay’s navtive Austrailia in 1999. In it’s original version it won several prizes including Austrailia’s AFI Best Short Film Award. Tommay moved to New York where he continued to work on the script for five years.
When Tommay got financing for the project, the next challenge was to find an actor for the lead. “With little money to offer an actor,” Tommay said, “and a character that does some pretty extreme things, the role of Warwick was not an easy one to cast. Luckily, David Hyde Pierce was willing to take a risk.”
In the fall of 2008, Tommay came to LA to make The Perfect Host, his first feature. He shot the film in only three weeks, but then spent most of 2009 in an editing room in New York. “Had I not played the film over and over again in my head during the writing process,” he said, “The Perfect Host would be a very different film.”
So what kind of film is it? It’s a thriller, sprinkled with just enough humor, that uses a game of chess as a recurring motif. But, the players involved in this game of chess stand to lose a lot more than their king. Or, maybe, they just think they do.