Panic Fest Review: An Ideal Host

Australian comedy is Noël Coward's Night of the Creeps

Liz (Nadia Collins) and Jackson (Evan Williams) have the perfect night planned. True, ever since they moved to the middle-of-Australian-nowhere, the opportunities for a dinner party have been few and far between, but when they decide to get engaged, they want everything to be just right. Fat chance, when some unexpected guests arrive.

No, it's not Liz's former best friend turned deliberately bitchy nemesis Daisy (Naomi Brockwell) that really throws the evening off, hard as she tries; nor is the ultimate derailment that Kyle (Daniel Buckle) that has brought his Grindr date, Brett (Tristan McInnes). Or the fact that Liz walks in on an extremely awkward moment with a kiss that just shouldn't be happening.

When An Ideal Host begins, its comedy-of-manners stylings belie exactly where it is headed, because there's an unexpected movie hidden under its hipsters-in-the-Outback exterior. In fact, if it wasn't part of this year's genre-friendly Panic Fest, then there's be no clue: not would it need the switch to be acidly entertaining. Tyler Jacob Jones' wry script initially carries no indicators of what could have been a wild twist. Collins (a dead ringer and tonal match for Bridesmaids-era Kristen Wiig) has a frantic twitch that creates sparks with the laconic and mean-tongued Daisy, and it's the perfect wrecking ball behind the crushing awkwardness of being stuck at a dinner party that you can't politely leave. However, when Jones throws his curveball, he doesn't throw any of that dynamic out. Instead, he layers a classic SF/horror trope in to the dinner party menu, and the end result is like Noël Coward's Night of the Creeps.

An Ideal Host loses a little momentum in the third-act transfer from that jocular and unique comedy of manners into more conventional genre fare that leans hard into early Peter Jackson (and harder and harder as the bodies pile up in admittedly entertaining ways). That it works comes down to Collins, who adds a deranged screwball spin to the humor. It's not that director Robert Woods doesn't handle the relationship comedy or the splatterpunk giggles: it's just the juxtaposition, like a too-heavy cake after an already rich meal. Still, it's not enough to wreck an entertaining evening.

An Ideal Host streamed as part of the virtual Panic Fest.

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