Review: ‘The Host’ (2020), starring Maryam Hassouni, Mike Beckingham and Dougie Poynter

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Maryam Hassouni and Mike Beckingham in "The Host"
Maryam Hassouni and Mike Beckingham in “The Host” (Photo by Ashley Paton Photography/Pearl Pictures Productions)

“The Host” (2020)

Directed by Andy Newberry

Culture Representation: Taking place in London and Amsterdam, the cast of white and Asian actors portray a mixture of middle-class professionals, seedy underworld figures and wealthy heirs.

Culture Clash: This film is a classic case of the “haves” versus the “have nots,” the crimes that people will commit to get more money, and how much they might or might nor get away with their crimes.

Culture Audience: “The Host” will appeal most to people who like B-movie thrillers with very familiar tropes that borrow heavily from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film “Psycho.”

Suan-Li Ong in “The Host” (Photo by Ashley Paton Photography/Pearl Pictures Productions)

“The Host” (directed by Andy Newberry) is an uneven, mostly watchable film that wraps itself in the guise of being a crime caper, but the gruesome elements of the story leave no doubt that this is a modern horror flick that will strike some fear into people who venture into a stranger’s home (no matter how lavish it is) for a place to stay. The movie takes quite a bit of time (about half of the film) before viewers get to see the film’s title character.

During the course of the movie, “The Host” screenwriters Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop and Laurence Lamers repeat major elements from writer/director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho,” including having three of these main characters: a thief on the run who needs a place to stay; a concerned sibling who goes looking for the thief after the thief goes missing; and a reclusive, mysterious host who lives in a foreboding mansion and who has some serious parental issues.

But first, viewers get to know the thief whose actions propel the chain of events that drive the story. In London, gambling addict Robert Atkinson (played by Mike Beckingham) has been stuck in a dead-end job as a bank teller for years. Robert smokes too much, drinks too much, and makes bad choices in his love life, such as sleeping with a married woman (a co-worker), who ends up ending their affair.

Robert and his younger brother Steve (played by Dougie Poynter, a musician/actor who’s best known outside the U.S. as the bass player for the pop/rock band McFly) spent much of their childhood as orphans. Robert looked out for Steve in their younger days. But now, their sibling roles have reversed. Steve, who’s a married father, is the responsible brother who lends Robert money, while bachelor Robert has been stagnating in a self-destructive rut—much to Steve’s worried disapproval.

One day, a customer walks into the bank to deposit £50,000 in cash. The bank manager entrusts Robert to handle the money and place it in a security deposit box. But since Robert is heavily in debt and doesn’t want to quit gambling, he can’t resist the temptation of stealing the money—even though he knows that surveillance cameras in the bank probably caught him in the act. Robert uses the money to gamble at a local gambling parlor, which looks like it’s run by mobster types with menacing-looking thugs as security. It should come as no surprise that Robert loses in a poker game—£2,000, to be exact—and his opponent demands payment from Robert the next day.

But then, a much older, mysterious man (played by Togo Igawa), who’s been quietly observing Robert in the parlor, approaches Robert and offers him a deal that sounds too good to be true: Take a briefcase, fly to Amsterdam, exchange it for a suitcase that will be given to him by a pre-arranged stranger, and bring the suitcase back to London. But don’t open the cases and don’t ask any questions. All the travel arrangements have already been made, the man tells Robert. And if the task is completed, the man will give Robert £150,000 in cash.

Everything about this deal screams “illegal” or “setup,” but Robert agrees to it, since he’s desperate to pay off his debts and have enough money left over to replace the stolen cash before anyone notices it’s gone. The enigmatic stranger who makes the offer has all the signs of being a crafty and powerful criminal, including his willingness throw all that cash around on someone he’s just met. He also surrounds himself with security goons and an attractive woman named Jun Hui (played by Suan Li-Ong).

Even though Robert makes some dumb choices (it wouldn’t be a horror movie if people didn’t), he’s smart enough to know that there’s a sinister plot in the works, and so his nerves are on edge as he boards the plane to Amsterdam. Robert is so nervous that he doesn’t notice that Jun Hui and a male companion named Yong (played by Tom Wu) have followed him to the airport and have boarded the same plane, where they conveniently sit a few rows away so they can be close enough to watch Robert.

Robert is seated in the same row as a talkative and friendly man (played by Nigel Barber), who introduces himself as an airplane security expert. He later tells Robert, as he offers to give him a ride from the airport, that his name is Herbert Summers. Since “The Host” is also a mystery thriller, of course not everyone is who they first seem to be.

That’s certainly true of Vera Tribbe (played by Maryam Houssini), the Amsterdam heiress who hosts traveling strangers in her mansion when her scruffy friend Gerrie (played by Reinout Bussemaker) overbooks the dumpy hostel that he runs in the back of a local café. This type of overbooking happens to a flustered Robert, who’s told by Gerrie that, as an apology, Robert will get an upgrade stay at Vera’s place at no extra charge. Gerrie explains that Vera is a dear friend who makes these accommodations as a favor to Gerrie.

Here are a few things to learn from the bad decisions that people make in horror movies:

(1) Don’t get involved in mysterious deliveries for a stranger, no matter how much money is involved.
(2) Don’t hand over your passport to a stranger who says they’ll need to temporarily keep it.
(3) Don’t accept drinks from a stranger if there’s a possibility that the drinks could be spiked with something harmful.

When Robert goes missing, the police are reluctant to get involved because the Tribbe family is the most powerful family in Amsterdam. During this manhunt, secrets are revealed to sometimes grisly results. The cast members of “The Host” will not be winning any acting awards for this movie, but some of the cast members are better than others. Poynter stands out as being the most credible with his character’s emotions, while Houssani’s acting range is distractingly uneven, veering from awkward to melodramatic.

The movie has so much of “Psycho” in it, that it’s a blatant homage or ripoff, depending on your perspective. Because “The Host” recycles key characteristics of Hitchcock’s most influential film, this lack of originality is ultimately a major flaw of “The Host” that can’t be ignored. The people who will enjoy this movie the most are those who don’t know anything about “Psycho,” since they won’t be able to guess what’s going to happen in the story.

Vertical Entertainment released “The Host” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on January 17, 2020.