Yesterday I ran across a strange little movie called The Perfect Host. David Hyde Pierce stars as Warwick Wilson, a prim and proper gentleman preparing for a classy dinner party. As he meticulously chops the vegetables and roasts the duck, fleeing bank robber John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) cons his way into the house and proceeds to turn his host into a hostage. Then comes the first twist: Warwick turns the tables on his captor, criminal becomes hostage, and easy prey becomes this thief’s worst nightmare.
The best thing about the movie, by far, is Hyde Pierce’s performance as Warwick. He may start out reminiscent of Niles Crane from Frasier, but this is a multi-leveled role and it truly showcases Hyde Pierce’s talent. The rest of the movie is just OK. There is a series of twists and turns that don’t completely flesh out, but the story remains intriguing. More importantly, its themes got me thinking about a few things.
The first is the value of hospitality. Pagan cultures around the world honored hospitality as a virtue. Many traditions of modern Paganism honor hospitality as well. But the truth is that, to some extent, this movie becomes hard to believe the moment that Warwick lets John into his home. Very few people would even consider allowing a wandering stranger into their homes today. Nor should they. Whatever your values are, it is simply too dangerous. We live in a society that has a strong undercurrent of fear and mistrust, much of it justified.
And that leads to the second important theme: you never know what that person next to you is really like. Warwick’s nefarious private life is completely hidden under a thick coating of civility, responsibility, and friendliness, which allows him free reign on his unfortunate hostage. Even the nosy Jehovah’s Witness lady next door overlooks way too many clues. Who knows what that quiet guy in the cubicle next to you is planning tonight?
Everyone is a mystery. That is what makes The Perfect Host and intriguing story. We have all seen enough news stories about people who do horrible things to innocent people, and most of us have probably wished we could take tie the asshole who did it to a chair and beat the living shit out of him. I can think of a certain gunman in Colorado that this applies to right now. This movie makes that fantasy a reality, helping us live that fantasy vicariously.
While it’s not a perfect story, The Perfect Host explores some very interesting themes of darkness and mistrust in our society. It delves into expressions of that darkness in many forms: John’s life of crime, Warwick’s sick secret life, and the reminder that even trusted public officials can be perfectly corrupt. More importantly, this tale of turning tables turns its exploration of darkness onto the audience.
There is a time when we truly enjoy the treatment Warwick gives to his would-be murderer. After all, the victim is himself a criminal. Revenge is sweet. After a while, though, the buzz wears off and you slowly begin to realize that no one deserves this. But we liked it while it lasted. We’re not all sweetness and light.
Then again…It just seems so out of place to talk about the darkness in us all on a day where some gun-wielding psycho opened fire in a crowded movie theater in a town I know, love, and have family in. I admit it. I would love to pull a Warwick on this guy. I know that few people have seen this movie, so you won’t get the joke, but I’m wishing I had a Polaroid camera and a Creature from the Black Lagoon mask.