James Jay Edwards reviews Host, a new horror film for these times, written and directed by Rob Savage, now streaming on Shudder.
Because of the current global pandemic, movie studio production schedules have been thrown into turmoil. But there’s at least one filmmaker who is making the most of what’s available. British writer/director Rob Savage has made a horror film for the times with Host.
Host is about a group of young people in England who are, like much of the world, on lockdown due to the coronavirus. To alleviate boredom, they contact a medium and decide to have a “virtual séance” over Zoom. And since Host is a horror movie, things go about as well as one would imagine they would.
(Host, theatrical release poster, Shudder)
The inspiration behind Host came when Savage, feeling the same effects of being cooped up during quarantine as his characters, supposedly decided to prank a group of his friends on a Zoom call. He pretended to investigate a haunting in his apartment in front of his pals, posted a two-minute edit of the experience on his Twitter, and watched it all go viral. The seeds for Host were planted, and with the help of some of those same friends and some creepily clever visual effect trickery (all, of course, directed via Zoom), it grew into a feature-length movie.
Presenting his story in an almost first-person, found footage style, Savage has crafted himself a tight and effective techno-thriller. The audience is shown the events from the screen of one of the participants, basically turning the viewer into another participant. This is not a new thing—it’s been done to varying degrees of effectiveness by recent movies like Searching, Unfriended, and Unfriended: Dark Web. And, truth be told, Host is derivative of those ancestors, particularly the Unfriended series. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
Now, I have to admit here that I am a sucker for these kinds of movies. I’m soft on any found footage or faux-documentary films, even if they stand no chance of actually fooling their audience (that ship sailed in 1999 with The Blair Witch Project—fool me once …). And while most of them are bad, I’ll watch them all, just hoping to find the diamond in the coal. Host is not quite one of those diamonds, but it’s surely some kind of a gem.
Although it will probably look dated in just a couple of years (if that long), the computer technology elements that Host embraces make it very relatable to a modern audience. Bad internet connections, clever Zoom backgrounds, and funny chat room filters all play significant roles in the movie’s unfolding narrative. It even uses Zoom’s free limitation of 40 minutes to keep its running time brief (the whole movie is a little less than an hour long). This works to its advantage because Host doesn’t really deliver anything new to its audience. In fact, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere. But it’s a cool ride, and thanks to its compact length and brisk pace, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Besides, do we really expect a millennial to shell out $14.99 a month for unlimited timed meetings?
Even though the story is typical, Host does have plenty of palpable suspense, some good thrills, and even a few awesome scares. Savage uses the virtual aspect of the movie to provide serious moments of Hitchcock “show them the bomb” tension. The viewer knows something is going to happen, it’s just a matter of when … and, in some cases, what. And it’s both breathtaking and heartstopping.
I’m going to leave you with something I hardly ever say. I’m a big believer in movie theaters, and I think that any movie is better on a big screen. With that, I’ll tell you to watch Host on a computer. The experience will be more immersive that way, and it’ll be much easier to get lost in the story as a passive participant. You’ll get bonus points for turning off the lights, too. If you dare.
Host is now streaming on Shudder, which is the perfect place for it.
I’ve been hearing strange noises from my attic, so I called a few friends and went to investigate… pic.twitter.com/CxmJAf44ob
— Rob Savage (@DirRobSavage) April 21, 2020