Comedy of manners becomes multi-genre gorefest in this sharply observed horror-comedy from Australia, gives you shocks and jumps as well as plenty of entertainment.
Don’t you just hate it when you plan the perfect evening, but then someone you didn’t invite – deliberately – turns up with one of the actual guests? An Ideal Host presents an evening with Liz and Jackson, who wish to entertain old friends and show off their new home; except nothing goes according to Liz’s immaculate plan when they discover Daisy is tagging along with Kyle. Not the end of the world… but maybe it is when Daisy turns out not to be the only gatecrasher.
Directed by Robert Woods (his first) – who also wore several other hats in the crew, including cinematography and editing – An Ideal Host provides a bit of everything for the fan of horror comedies. Sharp observational humor at first, about the house-proud middle class; disintegrating into vicious insults and catfighting; then sci-fi paranoia, a bloody fight to survive, gore and, um, tentacles.
Written by Tyler Jacob Jones (his first, too), the film’s structure and the tone of its humor reminded me of Two Heads Creek: believably conversational bickering at first, with a jump into madness. And it’s great! Even though I knew there was going to be a change, it still caught me out; perhaps because I was so engrossed in the tremendously awkward group dynamics of the dinner party. Liz (Nadia Collins) and Jackson (Evan Williams) are a clean, sweet couple, with a plausible range of close and formerly close friends. One of the minor characters, Mara (Mary Soudi), made me smile, swooning after the guy who only wants the unwelcome lush. Jon (Tristan McInnes), the Grindr pickup who unexpectedly turns out to be an intelligent doctor, presents a knowing dig at the gay dating lifestyle. The majority of the cast here play their first film roles, especially impressive in the case of Collins, who virtually carries the film with her exasperated domestic goddess act.
As the genre chaos descends upon this lovely semi-rural Australian “property”, familiar tropes emerge, but largely as playthings for the filmmakers. A scene in which the group tries to work out who is not what they appear is played in a salacious way, rather than tense. Like in many horrors, we find out just how much Liz is prepared to face in order to survive, but it seems much more extreme than necessary. And there are several other examples that I just can’t tell you without giving away some of the lovely touches in An Ideal Host that show the writer as affectionate and witty with his craft.
There are special effects galore too, especially in the second half; both creature and gore effects. They are all well done, so as to fit in with the realism of earlier, but outlandish too; a very clever blend to manage. All in all, there was a lot to love and admire about An Ideal Host, and I hope those involved go far. Its European premiere takes place at Grimmfest on 9 October 2020.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.