Attending film fests (whether in person or virtually) remains an enjoyable experience for many and puts a select few attendees in a special group of people who get to witness new horror movies before the general public. Obviously, we feel proud and a bit special for experiencing new spookies, but every once in a while, a new film comes out and you immediately wish a larger audience could see it. AN IDEAL HOST is a low-budget horror-comedy from Australia made by director Robert Woods and writer Tyler Jacob Jones, and I am eagerly waiting to expose as many people as I can to this film. Drama, engaging (and infuriating) characters, laugh-out-loud moments, suspense, and gore are all on the menu for this delightful dinner party and no one is leaving hungry. AN IDEAL HOST shows how a night in with friends can quickly become an impulsive evening of splattergore and giggles.
At the start, I did not have high hopes for the film, and based on the title I expected a crazed party host who takes her friends and family hostage. The introduction of the main characters Liz (Nadia Collins) and Jackson (Evan Williams) didn’t change those expectations. We open to them planning a dinner party, which takes a fair amount of preparation in itself. But for an added bit of theatre, they also plan on getting engaged in front of all their friends. Not announcing an engagement. But actually performing an overly rehearsed proposal. Liz’s entire life appears as some performative piece as she meticulously organizes her home, outfit, and an hour-by-hour breakdown of her night. However, with her desire to make every last detail perfect, of course, an unpredictable wrench would get thrown into the cogs.
Daisy (Naomi Brockwell), a wild and unruly ex-friend of Liz, decides to crash the dinner party. Liz and Jackson want to create a lovely homecoming in their small town of Wellsworth, but the crass Daisy, despite the pleas of her friends, seems intent on pushing buttons for the sole purpose of entertaining herself. The characters fit a lot of the standard characteristics of small-town reunions. A group of people, (with not a terrible amount in common) spend time together because they were geographically bound to one another when they were younger. And like all good dinner parties involving a reunion of old friends, the guests drink too much wine and share secrets from the past.
With the tensions rising and tempers losing control, the wide camera angle which encompasses the entire scene and shows each person in a chaotic interaction, begins to close in on Daisy, starting one continuous shot. The growing and swelling eye of the camera goes from covering the whole room to a much smaller scope which narrows on one person for a more uncomfortable and close contact with each other. The single-shot becomes almost mesmerizing as the inclusion of such an intricate shot comes about like Daisy, quite capriciously. With Woods flexing on his impressive camera abilities, the audience becomes another guest at the party, and we feel uncomfortable. At this point, the indie-comedy aspects start to ramp up and while the story may seem to take a predictable path, the night takes a real turn when instead of dispersing party favors, the guest becomes privy to the alien body snatchers.
While it does bear some hallmarks of a low-budget movie such as limited settings and a small cast, AN IDEAL HOST manages to use what they have exceedingly well. They don’t try to do more than they can with effects and the settings are used and mixed very well. The actors all inhabit their roles well, without really any weak links in the cast. And the direction and camera work are so well done that it doesn’t ‘feel’ low budget, but rather the exact budget they wanted to tell this story.
Going blind into this film provided an absolutely delicious adventure, so hopefully knowing the twist won’t take away any of the fun. Regardless, even with knowing the trajectory of the party, you will still have some very enjoyable (and surprising) gore to look forward to. Learn from Liz and don’t over plan and just find enjoyment in this unexpected Australian horror-comedy.
AN IDEAL HOST played as a part of this year’s Horrible Imaginings Film Festival.