GORE IN THE STORE
THE HOST ***
Directed by Andy Newbery.
Starring Mike Beckingham, Dougie Poynter, Maryam Hassoon, Margot Stilley, Togo Igawa, Derek Jacobi, Dominic Keating, Ruby Turner.
Netherlands 2020 Certificate: 15 102 mins.
Out now On Demand from Vertical Entertainment.
It took four credited writers (Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop, Laurence Lamers, Zachary Weckstein) to craft the somewhat clunky Euro thriller THE HOST – though it’s a shame that none of them submitted a more original title than THE HOST, which has already been taken by at least two major movies from the recent past (plus that memorable X FILES episode with the toilet-bothering man-worm monster). That said, there’s a certain old-school, creaky charm at the heart of Andy Newbery’s film with its join-the-dots plot taking in a revolving door of femme fatales, spiral staircases, location filming in London and Amsterdam and ominously glowering Chinese characters. Bonus points are also earned from its opening title sequence – a spirited digital homage to the much missed movie art of the great Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, the likes of which figure high in our nostalgic memories of classic Hollywood and vintage Bond movies.
The narrative is built, in the Hitchcock tradition, around the plight of a likeable-enough, floundering Everyman thrust into a succession of dangerous encounters with strategically placed, mostly duplicitous foreigners – the kind of people who start a conversation by expressing affection for an antique fourth century knife. Said protagonist is Mike Beckingham, a down-on-his-luck London banker who has burnt all bridges with his family, owes money to everyone (including loyal brother Dougie Poynter) and is frustrated by co-worker / manager’s wife Margot Stilley’s failure to leave her husband despite their weekly hotel room-based shagging sessions. Jaded by seven years of being stuck in the same job and pokey flat, Beckingham is inspired to steal £50,000 from a customer’s safety deposit box and almost immediately, true to desperate form, blows it all at a casino. He is offered an escape route from even further debt by the enigmatic Togo Igawa (the veteran actor adding some class to the proceedings), who promises a major payday if he flies to Amsterdam and exchanges a briefcase for a suitcase. Naturally, our hero has just unwittingly signed up to be a mule for one of the biggest Triad gangs in the world.
The script is unabashedly old fashioned and contrived, from Beckingham’s cliched family backstory to lines like “You’re different from other men” and an abundance of hastily introduced, carefully positioned supporting characters who exist just to move the story on to the next threat. It’s too pedestrian to be particularly suspenseful, but Beckingham brings a degree of hapless appeal to the lead role and things perk up considerably when he ambles his way into the Air BnB of a suspiciously single, clearly damaged woman (Maryam Hassouni) who confirms the old adage “Never trust someone called Vera who still lives with her father”. Dutch actress Hassouni has the most fun as a smiling sadist who laments the city’s world famous red light districts (“Those poor women are used until they’re nearly split in half…”) and figures in a midpoint flirtation with HOSTEL-era torture movie territory via a shock narrative turn borrowed from the Hitchcock playbook.
Derek Jacobi shows up fleetingly in a pointless framing device, and McFly bass player Dougie Poynter is a charisma vacuum as Beckingham’s brother, but it’s an endearingly modest, digestible picture. It’s the kind of thing that would have constituted perfectly decent small screen entertainment for a Sunday evening back in the days when Karl Howman might have played the lead and the alternate viewing options were That’s Life and World Championship Snooker in black and white on your bedroom TV.