Tag Archives: psycho

The Perfect Host (2010)

You can’t kill me. I’m having a dinner party!”

DVD trailers sometimes appear to be selected with the idea of common tastes, so with that thought in mind, I wondered what to expect when I painstakingly made my way through the cheesy trailers on the DVD The Perfect Host. I couldn’t remember how The Perfect Host had found its way onto my netflix list. This is the first full-length feature from Aussie writer/director Nick Tomnay, so I know I didn’t select the film due to the director, and neither did the film feature any star whose work I follow.  I probably put the film in the netflix queue simply because it’s a crime film from an Aussie director, and I can’t resist those. So… as I watched the trailers for a handful of cheap and possibly gory thrillers, I began to wonder what was in store for me with The Perfect Host. The film’s tagline, by the way, is Dinner Parties are a dying art….

The film begins with a wounded man, John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) hobbling away from the scene of the crime. Taylor, a heavily tattooed career criminal, is haunted by bad luck. Fate derails his plans for escape and without any money or identification, he decides to try a little home invasion and use the home of some innocent bystander as a hiding place just until the next day. So he starts knocking at the doors of upper-middle class Hollywood Hills homes playing the victim in distress. But hey, this is California! Most people aren’t going to fall for that.

After one door is slammed in his face, John can’t believe his luck when he’s allowed into the beautiful, elegant  home of a quirky, effete middle-aged bachelor Warwick Wilson (David Hyde Pierce). Warwick is busily cooking a meal for some friends who are expected at 8. After John learns that one of them is a prosecuting attorney, he decides that it’s time to take over the house and hold Warwick hostage until morning. And that’s when everything goes wrong….

By necessity this is going to be a short review because to write too much more will reveal this film’s delightful plot. While The Perfect Host appears to take the viewer down some fairly familiar paths of genre, this film is not what you expect at all. Obviously writer/director Nick Tomnay is very familiar with some of the genre’s clichés, and he subverts them with great and darkly comic results here.

David Hyde Pierce has to be seen to be believed and after watching the film, I’m still not entirely sure about this character. Nathaniel Parker plays a tenacious detective and Helen Reddy plays Cathy Knight, Warwick’s nosy neighbour.

Anyway, check out this film–I loved it, and here’s the site: www.theperfecthostmovie.com

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Secret Smile (2005)

 

secret-smileSecret Smile is an intriguing two-part, made-for-British television thriller that charts the chain of revenge that follows the break up of a casual one-night stand between London architect, Miranda Cotton (Kate Ashfield) and the creepy Brendan Block (David Tennant).

Career-minded Miranda takes a chance on a complete stranger and rapidly lives to regret it as the sociopathic Block smarms and worms his way into the lives of Miranada’s family and friends. Soon her life is a complete nightmare, but Block is so smooth, so amenable that no one–including Miranda’s family–believes that Block is a total psycho. It’s not long before Miranda begins to wonder just what Block is capable of and how far he’s prepared to go to make her pay. But it takes Miranda a while to realize that the manipulative Block is playing with her and that he dictates both the game and the rules. With someone like Block, you either walk away or change the rules. Miranda chooses the latter.

Block as the enigmatic, calculating ex-boyfriend from hell is entirely credible. I did, however, find myself getting rather annoyed with Miranda, and saying things such as, “you idiot” to the screen when Miranda caves and Block scores a point. But my annoyance with Miranda was really just a manifestation of how wrapped up I was in the drama.

The ending was a little implausible, but it was definitely dramatic enough to match the rest of this tale. Based on the novel by Nikki French, the film is directed Christopher Menaul.

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Asylum (2005)

“A dangerous sport–love.”

Forbidden passion, jealousy, and insanity are the themes in the atmospheric, psychological drama Asylum–a tale of a sultry, destructive adulterous affair. When the film begins, the ambitious Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) arrives with his family to take up a position as the new Deputy Superintendent at a mental hospital. The mental hospital is a Gothic-style building set in gorgeous country grounds, but for Max’s wife, Stella (Natasha Richardson), the hospital, and the society of other doctors’ wives offer no consolations. She is bored to tears. Her small son, Charlie becomes friends with one of the patients, a former sculptor named Edgar (Marton Csokas). Edgar is considered perfectly safe–even though he slaughtered his wife in a jealous rage years before.

Max is an insufferable husband–and it seems clear to him and his visiting mother that Stella–as a wife–is a bit of a letdown. Stella doesn’t fit in, and the fact she wears tight, revealing clothing doesn’t help matters as far as Max is concerned. While Max coldly and witheringly lectures Stella about her many failings, and inappropriate behaviour, she’s gradually attracted to Edgar. In a deserted greenhouse, they indulge in a passionate, adulterous affair. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered–especially since Edgar is the “pet patient” of Dr. Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen). The reptilian Cleave is a quiet bachelor who admits he spends his life “immersed in the passions of others.” And that quote rings horribly true by the film’s end.

Based on the novel by Patrick McGrath, the film explores the relationships between its complex–and not particularly nice–main characters. While the plot has its soap-opera-ish moments, nonetheless, it’s all cleverly done. By the film’s conclusion, it’s painfully obvious that there’s very little difference between the asylum inmates, and those ‘curing’ the patients. The film’s complicated psychological analyses–particularly of Stella–resonate long after the credits roll. Stella–who undergoes an astonishing physical deterioration in the film–is seen at first as a average, bored wife who strays under the misapprehension that Edgar isn’t dangerous, but as the plot continues, Stella’s inappropriate behaviour is clearly just part of her deviance. For those who haven’t read any novels by Patrick McGrath, I recommend them strongly. He’s the master of the psychological, gothic novel. McGrath’s father was the medical superintendent of Broadmoor–a hospital for the criminally insane. And after reading one of McGrath’s novels, it’s obvious that this experience left its mark on this original, clever author.

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Longford (2006)

“If you start off with that pious mumbo jumbo I’ll jump across this table and bite off your tongue.”

The Moors Murders committed in the 1960s by Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, are some of the most horrific child murders in the history of British crime. These notorious murderers lured, tortured and then killed their young victims, and even made tape recordings of a 10-year-old victim’s ordeal. The film Longford traces the relationship between the incarcerated Myra Hindley and Lord Longford, then a cabinet member in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government. Director Tom Hopper avoids the sensationalistic and more gruesome aspects of this notorious case and, instead, presents a fascinating psychological, character driven drama that explores the issues of rehabilitation and redemption.

The film begins in 1987 with Longford’s attendance at a call-in radio programme where he’s confronted by outraged callers who demand to know if he has any regrets about his relationship with Hindley. The film then flashes back to 1967 when Longford (Jim Broadbent), a well-known advocate of prisoners, and a firm believer in rehabilitation, is first approached by convicted murderer, Hindley (Samantha Morton) in her bid to secure parole.

Most of those who know Longford accept his position regarding prisoner rehabilitation, but as far as his family and the general public are concerned, he crosses the line in his relationship with Hindley. Longford, a fervent christian who has converted to catholicism, believes that everyone and every sin can be forgiven. So befriending Hindley represents a test of his religious commitment. Although initially daunted by the prospect of meeting this notorious killer face-to-face, Longford is pleasantly surprised by Hindley. He expected a monster, but instead discovers a demure, quiet young woman. He’s delighted, therefore, when over time Hindley expresses an interest in returning to the catholic church, and claims that it is due to Longford’s influence. Longford’s uncomfortable encounters with the demonic Ian Brady (Andy Serkis in a chilling performance), however, raise questions about Hindley’s sincerity.

The Moors Murderers were the first male/female serial sex killers in Britain, and while it was accepted that a man was capable of such acts, many people expressed incredulity that a woman was involved. One of the theories was that Brady forced or coerced Hindley in some way, and some evidence at the trial in conjunction with Hindley’s subdued, obedient behaviour certainly reinforces that argument, and she claims that she was led astray by Brady’s forceful personality. Various reformers see Hindley as a model prisoner while Brady is seen as a monster. Does Longford, who believes fervently in forgiveness and redemption, see only what he wants to see? Ian Brady delights in evil, and shows no remorse whatsoever, but is Myra a different case?

The film, which is excellently acted, makes a strong statement about the role of ego in the redemption of another, and Longford is portrayed as a naive man whose life of phenomenal privilege leaves him unprepared to deal with the dark side of human nature. The DVD includes a short feature with some details and archival footage concerning the murders. Directed by Tom Hopper

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