Nick Tomnay’s debut feature, The Perfect Host, fits into the subgenre of two-person mystery-thrillers like Sleuth and Deathtrap, and while it’s nowhere near as good as either of those, the writer-director does make good use of his limited set and characters, and keeps introducing new surprises. Clayne Crawford plays a bank robber who’s slinking through the suburbs of Los Angeles, looking for a place to lay low, when he comes across the home of dapper aesthete David Hyde Pierce. Crawford swipes some of Pierce’s mail so he can make up a story and con his way inside, but before long, he realizes Pierce is more than a little nuts. Over the next hour or so of screen-time, the two men trade lies—and later threats—until it’s impossible to say who’s really in control of the situation.
Tomnay introduces flashbacks to fill in the blanks of Crawford’s story, and he introduces a left-field twist about Pierce in the last 15 minutes that brings the threads together in a fairly ridiculous way. But it’s a fun kind of ridiculous, and Pierce plays his wacked-out dinner-party host with such gusto that it almost doesn’t matter that neither of the main characters are really fleshed out. Accent on the “almost.” Ultimately, The Perfect Host is too superficial to develop the kind of white-knuckle roller-coaster narrative Tomnay intends. It’s best enjoyed as a crackling performance piece, as the scruffy-but-shrewd Crawford and the crackpot Pierce try to figure each other out and outflank each other, while constantly adjusting to each other’s versions of reality.