'The Host': Film Review

Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Much like its central character, the film goes seriously awry.
1/17/2020

A London banker gets into life-threatening trouble after robbing a safe-deposit box in Andy Newbery's Hitchcockian thriller.

You have to say this about The Host: You get two movies for the price of one. Andy Newbery's bizarro feature debut starts out a sort of Hitchcockian thriller before switching about halfway through into something entirely different. To find out exactly what, keep reading, but consider this one big spoiler alert.

The central character of the film is Robert Atkinson (Mike Beckingham, lacking the necessary charisma to make us care about his character), a young and handsome London banker who makes a series of such spectacularly bad decisions that he seems less hapless than certifiable. We first see him engaging in a torrid liaison with an American woman (Margot Stilley) who happens to be his boss' wife. Not long after, he impulsively robs a safe-deposit box of $50,000 in cash. He doesn't commit the theft to pay for a relative's life-saving operation, mind you, but rather so he can head to a nearby casino that seems to be entirely populated by Chinese gangsters. He promptly loses a fortune to a man who makes it quite clear what he'll do if Robert doesn't come up with the cash.

By then we've already figured out that Robert is less a sympathetic figure who makes a bad mistake (like Janet Leigh's Marion Crane in Psycho, for instance, a film to which this one owes an obvious debt), but rather an idiot. That's further confirmed by his next decision, which is to take up the offer of an elderly Chinese man (veteran character actor Togo Igawa, instantly recognizable) who says that he'll make Michael his "friend" if he merely agrees to transport a locked briefcase to Amsterdam and swap it for another one.

Robert doesn't even make it through the flight before he runs into yet more trouble. His friendly, chatty seatmate (Nigel Barber) turns out to be a DEA agent who promises Robert that he won't see jail time if he just cooperates. Later, when Robert arrives at his hotel, he discovers that they've lost his reservation and are fully booked. So he winds up staying at a posh Airbnb-style rental in a swank townhouse inhabited by the mysterious Vera (an alluring Maryam Hassouni, who deserves better material). Around the time that Robert's more level-headed brother (Dougie Poynter, of the British pop band McFly) arrives in Amsterdam, things really hit the fan and the pic suddenly becomes a horror film of the torture porn variety.

Director Newbery proves ill-equipped to handle the convoluted narrative shifts of the screenplay co-written by Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop and Laurence Lamers. But to be fair, even Hitchcock would have thrown up his hands at the illogical plotting and over-the-top contrivances that make North by Northwest look like a documentary by comparison. Brian De Palma might have been able to lean into the absurdity, infusing the over-the-top proceedings with enough visual stylization to take viewers on a wild ride, but the pedestrian approach here simply proves tedious, which is no small achievement considering the utter craziness on display.

Don't be fooled, by the way, by the inclusion of such well-known veteran actors as Derek Jacobi and Jeroen Krabbe in the cast. The former appears briefly in short wrap-around segments in which he plays a seen-it-all shrink, and the latter is seen so fleetingly that he barely makes an impression. Like so much of the rest of The Host, they're a bait-and-switch.

Production company: Pearl Pictures Productions
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Maryam Hassouni, Mike Beckingham, Dougie Poynter, Nigel Barber, Suan-Li Ong, Togo Igawa, Daniel Boissevain, Tom Wu, Fabian Jansen, Renout Bussemker, Margo Stilley, Dominic Keating, Jeroen Krabbe, Ruby Turner, Derek Jacobi
Director: Andy Newbery
Screenwriters: Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop, Laurence Lamers
Producer: Zachary Weckstein
Director of photography: Oona Menges
Production designer: Felix Coles
Editors: Julien Leloup, Ot Louw
Composer: Wan Pin Chu
Costume designer: Lotte Noordermeer
Casting: Andrew Davis

Rated R, 102 minutes