Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
One of the genres that’s consistently hard to get just right is the Horror-Comedy. Sure some films do hit that mix right out of the park (Evil Dead 2, Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, etc) but for the most part they tend to either be more horror or more of a comedy and never quite hit that perfect balance. Today’s film, An Ideal Host, leans on the side of caution and splits the film into doing comedy at the start, horror at the end and it actually works out pretty well.
An Ideal Host is about Liz (Nadia Collins) and her partner Jackson (Evan Williams), a sweet couple who have decided to host a quaint little dinner party for a few of their friends, and one uninvited guest who ends up tagging along. At first the dinner seems to be going well, a little awkwardly at times but for the most part everything is going along nicely until something happens that will turn the night into a violent horror show for everyone involved, potentially leading to the end of the world as we know it.
Before An Ideal Host started, there was a video from the director who described the film as “Very silly and scrappy as fuck” and honestly I don’t know if I can come up with something better than that… so, end of review…
OK fine, I’ll keep doing my stupid job.
For a film that was shot very on the cheap with a small crew in a house in the middle of nowhere, there’s a stunning amount to love about An Ideal Host. For starters, the film is basically just what’d happen if you took the story of The Thing and put it in a little farmhouse in Australia and didn’t have the budget to pull off Rob Bottin levels of visual effects (though for a film with no budget, they do pull off some pretty impressive gore moments).
For roughly the first half of An Ideal Host it’s so low key, it’s just a quirky little comedy about a bunch of friends having a nice dinner (including a pair of gay guys who are just part of the damn film… hey Hollywood, if this film can just throw gay people in without any hassle, what’s your excuse?) with some very good jokes and quickly defined characters. It’s the kind of opening that tricks you into a false sense of security so once things start going pear-shaped and the horror element kicks in, it’s genuinely unexpected. You could show someone the opening half-hour and the final ten minutes of this film and have no idea how they bridged the gap in tone between them, but somehow this film manages to pull that off.
Once An Ideal Host starts going for the horror element, it goes hard in that direction and really doesn’t let up. For a film that spends a good amount of time making charming jokes, the final act of the film is a viscerally upsetting sequence with some moments that actually made me wince with sympathy pains. For a film that starts with mostly emotional pain caused by an annoying guest, it ends with people losing arms and getting their guts caught in the tires of cheap second-hand cars… which is pretty much how most films should end, if I’m being honest.
Of course, An Ideal Host is also a movie that was shot with a tiny crew on no budget, so there are some slight tech issues you have to adjust to. The sound mixing isn’t the best, there’s a couple of shots where the colour correction is just not good and other things that one really associates with low budget films made by a bunch of friends who just want to put on a show. Once you adjust to that, you’ve got a genuinely fun and clever film that has enough charm and intelligence to make its very silly scrappiness work in its favour.
An Ideal Host is like one of those knockoff toys you buy at The Reject Shop, it’s a little iffy looking and cheap as all hell but you can still have a ton of fun with it. The passion behind this is what really makes it work, it’s got more than a few good laughs and scares to make for a really enjoyable time. This is the kind of film where you really hope that someone gives the director and writer a proper budget just to see what they can do without the heavy restrictions placed upon them (of course then you remember that this film is made in Australia and we stopped really caring about our own film industry back in the 90s, sadly).