It’s the third week of the Soho Horror Festival’s Shockdown Saturdays and the festival continues to showcase some great underground selections and terrific short films. The theme this week was “Come Dine With Me” and had a lot to do with manners, food, and being An Ideal Host, the first film of this week’s program. Soho Horror Festival also surprised their audience with a third feature this week in Las Furias, which was supposed to show on Valentine’s weekend but due to a subtitle issue was pushed out to this weekend.
Short films that kicked off the festival this week included the political monster thriller Hand in Hand, which saw a handsy monster grow out of a bullish handshake. Through the use of a unifying handshake wrought with partisan tension, writer/director Ennio Ruschetti provides a wonderful examination of both bureaucracy and egotism in a political process that doesn’t always consider the everyday person. The ending provides a subtle suggestion that even those that get into the process as everyday people can also be susceptible to the same fate.
The second short, Ariel Zengotita’s Flick, grossed me out almost immediately. I think it was probably the mucus tether between the character’s finger and nasal cavity that was ultimately just cringeworthy. The easiest synopsis for Flick is that a man (Nate Pringle) is driven to insanity after being unable to flick a booger from his finger. Flick feels like an ode to absurdist international horror comedies like Dead Sushi and Killer Condom, proving by the end that it can hang (pun intended) with the best of them.
Because I had already reviewed The Last Thanksgiving, this week’s second feature, I thought it would be most appropriate to give its short film program some love before diving into An Ideal Host. Meat Lovers turned one person’s delivery into a nightmare, as a delivery guy leaves an unattended pizza on the doorstep of a young woman’s (Shana Goodman) apartment. Though in the age of COVID this has become a little more likely, the horror turns up when it’s revealed it isn’t the meat lover’s pizza she ordered but a horrifying cheese pizza. Irked, the woman calls the pizza shop to complain but falls victim to a monstrous trap. Meat Lovers is a cheesy, snack-sized short fit for the Cryptkeeper.
Last but not least for short films: Mashed Potato Face. A film that featured forced feedings, mashed brains, and a mashed potato possession (a potession?) was really something fresh and different. Writer/director Joseph Graham creates a monster wearing mashed potatoes on his face (Lynn Miller Jr.) that takes a family dinner hostage by forcing them to eat bowls of mashed potatoes. It’s like if a Troma film came to your Sunday dinner. It’s an unsettling, persistent, original short and one that will not be forgotten anytime soon. So, you’d better eat your mashed potatoes.
As we settle into our feature, An Ideal Host reminds us that we all have those friends. The ones that moved far away from town and Instagram pictures of their how domestic bliss has settled into their hearts through their refined purchases from Wayfair and Restoration Hardware. These friends find comfort in a pleasing presentation, the perfect seating chart, and the flawless aesthetics of a feng shui living space. Deep down, do you think maybe they’re screaming inside? For the most part, these are not the kind of people that yearn for a day off from the pressures of their magnificent table centerpieces and matching throw pillows, who secretly wish to get a little messy for once. But could they, hypothetically, if an interplanetary invasion were to take place?
Liz (Nadia Collins) and Jackson (Evan Williams) are those friends in An Ideal Host, who have invited a group of their friends to stay overnight for an itinerary-defined day of scheduled fun and food. The unexpected announcement that the uninvited wildcard Daisy (Naomi Brockwell) will be crashing the couple’s event creates added pressure for Liz, probably because everyone keeps reminding her how Daisy got excessively drunk and ruined her last party.
Daisy might be a bit intense in comparison to Jackson and Liz’s other friends like Mara (Mary Soudi), the narcissist, Brett (St John Cowcher) the bachelor, or new couple Kyle and Jon (Daniel Buckle and Tristan McInnes), who are all fit with the makings of the same domesticated bliss. Daisy is the kind of true-blue friend who can see through the bullsh*t veneer of happiness which Liz is clinging to. Though some of the group pretentiously insist that Daisy has been, and should be, outgrown, there seems to be a part of Liz that enjoys Daisy’s being there. I think we all have this friend that just encourages us to be a different version of ourselves, maybe even from a different time, and it’s often a good reminder of who we used to be as people as well as a good inflection of whether or not we have actually grown or are simply personifying the idea of what we think grown might look like.
When Daisy starts to get the feeling Brett may be into her, she sneaks off with him, only to return moments later with the truly unbelievable story that something inside Brett attacked her when he tried to kiss her. The group fears that Daisy is drunk after already making a scene by breaking wine glasses and storming off and that the disaster brewing is only comparable to her behavior at the last party she was invited to. The whole setup is very reminiscent of Todd Berger’s pitch-black dark comedy It’s A Disaster mixed with a dash of Peter Stray’s Canaries. An Ideal Host combines the two concepts which produce the film’s own blend of entertaining carnage.
An Ideal Host has been charming, quick-witted, and funny up to this point, but here’s where it gets undeniably bonkers, as well. The group of friends begins turning on each other as it becomes known that aliens are posing as friends among the group. During dessert Jackson’s rehearsed-to-perfection engagement proposal to Liz results in an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired alien entity trying to slither and squirm its way into her body. The remaining humans capture pod-person, sans pod, Jackson who feels thankful he now gets to turn off the exhausting charade of ostentatiousness that Jackson and Liz outwardly present. The film becomes astoundingly satirical for those that keep up appearances, trying so hard to validate themselves through a department store window display model of impressiveness.
As the idea of an exemplary high-class evening with friends grinds to a halt, it’s fun to see how this immaculate home becomes transformed by utter chaos into something no homeowner will ever be able to clean the stains out of. People are hunted while trying to escape, and at one point, while Liz is hiding among the trees, I got an evocative reminder of Kelly Reilly’s evasion of locals in Eden Lake. It’s little moments like these that director Robert Woods has fleshed into An Ideal Host that keep it entertaining to both sci-fi and horror movie fans who can point out similarities. The hyper-violent blood bath ending is sort of the icing on the cake in a movie overwrought with surprises.
It’s a bare-bones production, estimated to have cost about twenty-thousand Australian dollars to make and, as Woods tells it, was never meant to be a finished film. Alone during COVID lockdown with the footage he and a group of friends shot at a farm over a handful of holidays to get funding for the project, Woods ended up, unexpectantly, cutting the final product. Yes, it is a little rough around the edges, but An Ideal Host is an absolutely entertaining alien horror film that will hopefully put its apt director, clever writer (Tyler Jacob Jones), and young cast into future projects. The film should not be missed by fans of horror-comedies or fans of extremely gory filmmaking because it delivers on both, once again proving it doesn’t take a lot of money to create an effective horror film.
Though the third of eight Shockdown Saturdays may be over, the fun will continue through the last Saturday in February and throughout March. If you’d like to be a part of the festival, all you have to do is become a member of the festival’s Facebook page and click the links in the announcements section when the films are released on Saturday. All showings are based on local time in Soho, England—check with their website and Facebook page for times (often they leave the links open until Sunday at midnight). The festival is free, but Soho Horror Film Festival is operating solely on viewer support donations and entirely without sponsors. So, if you like what you see, I’d strongly encourage you to support them so we can all indulge in future events.