Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Host: Next Time Book a Marriott

This film is so hostile to the Airbnb model, it could have been funded by the city of New York or the state of California. Still, it probably has a point when it suggests first-time mules should probably spring for a decent chain hotel when they are in Amsterdam to make a drop that will clear their gambling debts. Instead, Robert Atkinson opts for an over-booked hostel that refers him to a tony private home with rooms for rent, leading him straight into Hell in Andy Newbery’s The Host, which opens this Friday in Brooklyn.

Admittedly, Atkinson faces an unusually dire situation, but it was his own spectacularly bad decisions that brought him so far astray. He was the one who decided to gamble with the cash left in his London bank’s short-term safety deposit and he is the one who lost it all and then some at a triad-controlled Casino. He doesn’t have much choice but to accept Lau Hoi Ho’s offer-he-can’t-refuse. He only has to schlep a locked briefcase to a prearranged exchange. Lau’s assistant Jun Hui and his enforcer Yong will accompany Atkinson to keep him out of trouble, but they do a terrible job of it.

First of all, they let DEA Agent Herbert Summers turn Atkinson during the flight. Actually, this is just fine with Jun, because she is a deep cover plant. However, letting him let a room at Vera Tribbe’s stately townhouse is a huge mistake. She is definitely a weird one—and dangerous. At least everyone will have a chance at a do-over when Atkinson’s responsible family man brother Steve comes looking for him.

This is a strange film, starting with Derek Jacobi’s initially baffling wrap-around cameo as the head-shrinking Dr. Hobson. However, judging from the third act revelations, one could guess it was intended as an homage to Simon Oakland’s brief but defining appearance in Psycho. The Host also takes its own radical turn, shifting from an in-over-his-head thriller to a veritable horror movie.

Newbery does not take us on the smoothest of rides, but he embraces each audacious plot point with relish. He also has the benefit of some colorful and distinctive character actors to help sell it, including Jacobi, Togo Igawa as Lau (a Japanese actor playing a Chinese gangster, but whatever), Tom Wu as the henchman Yong, and Nigel Barber radiating silver-haired authority as Agent Summers.

Instead of going big, Maryam Hassouni makes Tribbe creepy in a quiet, squirrely kind of way. Dougie Poynter and Mike Beckingham are believably Kane and Abel-ish as the bickering Atkinson Brothers, while Suan-Li Ong playing Jun Hui shows some potential to be an action star in the Juju Chan mold.

The Host is an odd little film, but also a very dark one. Nevertheless, those of us who see a lot of genre movies have to give it credit for setting itself apart. This is definitely more of a streaming kind of thing than a film to see in theaters, but you could do a lot worse. Sort of recommended, The Host opens this Friday in Brooklyn, at the Kent Theater (seriously, you knew it had to be the Kent, right?).