Director: Rob Savage
Writer: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd
Producer: Douglas Cox
Stars: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Edward Linard, Jinny Lofthouse, Seylan Baxter
During the COVID-19 lockdown, five girlfriends host an online s¨¦ance that turns terrifying when they inadvertently summon a demonic entity.
Unless we¡¯re counting ¡°Corona Zombies¡± (review here), and we¡¯re not because Full Moon¡¯s garbage should be fired off the face of the Earth and forgotten, then ¡°Host¡± wins the race as the first fright film to plug the coronavirus pandemic directly into its concept and make it to market while the world is still in lockdown. Director Rob Savage went from whipping up a two-minute Twitter video in April 2020 to developing a full feature that debuted on Shudder in July, just three months later.
Cynical people can and will sneer that ¡°Host¡± was made cheaply, or that it rushed from soup to nuts in order to capitalize on its timeliness while social distancing was still a hot topic and Zoom meetings were still somewhat trendy. Those things being true doesn¡¯t mean ¡°Host¡± is unentertaining, even if it¡¯s no more filling than a fun-size Milky Way bar in the genre¡¯s deep bag of bigger Halloween treats.
Consider the reality of DIY indie filmmaking anyway. It was only a matter of minimal time before someone exploited the inexpensiveness of ¡°found footage¡± while working in ideas COVID-19 made commonplace. I for one am thankful ¡°Host¡± came out so quickly, if for no other reason than to head off the herd and kill a million copycat plans before they can flood DTV streams for longer than this plague lasts. Some project was going to shape the first stage of what Pandemic Era horror looks like. It might as well be ¡°Host,¡± and it might as well be now.
The premise is simple. It would even be fair to say ¡°Host¡± is predominantly premise followed by multiple punchlines, with no real story in between. Looking to spice up self-isolation, Haley arranges an online s¨¦ance for five friends, each of whom connect to one video call via cameras on their computers. Shortening this summary as much as possible, the spirit summoning goes awry, unleashing a spookshow that allows Savage and his small cast to craft escalating events featuring creative stunts and scares. It¡¯s a lot like watching an Old Vegas magic show if it were themed around longstanding horror tricks.
As is customary in ¡°found footage¡± or with this laptop screen format, nothing but nonsense occupies the film¡¯s first fourth. ¡°Host¡± meanders about with inconsequential dialogue establishing Haley¡¯s circle as average folks. We briefly meet one woman¡¯s goofball dad and learn another girl has boyfriend troubles. That covers everything going on in the background. The group¡¯s chumminess adds a little charm when they cheekily conspire to do shots every time the psychic says ¡°astral plane,¡± making everyone sufficiently personable even though barely anyone but boisterous bloke Teddy exhibits a distinct personality.
In fact, ¡°Host¡± could get by with fewer names on its roster if the film weren¡¯t already pared down to bare bones as it is. When spinning plates start slowing down on any of the seven separate screens, you can hear the movie thinking out loud as it says, ¡°Oh yeah, we need to do something with so-and-so¡± before remembering to give a neglected person¡¯s platter another whirl with paranormal activity.
After the usual fluff of hollow chitchat and fake-out frights that turn out to be false alarms, ¡°Host¡± switches gears into seriousness with surprising speed. Comic relief falls by the wayside when Teddy drops out about two minutes into the s¨¦ance. Brows soon start furrowing and terrified tears start rolling as supernatural stakes go from zero to 60 in a horrifying hurry.
¡°Host¡± builds the bulk of its tension out of anticipation. Darkened doorways behind each head suggest sinister possibilities within every shadow. Next comes a sense of helplessness because the women are trapped in separate windows, forced to watch fearfully when one of them encounters the invisible entity haunting everyone. Then ¡°Host¡± goes full bore into a steady stream of screams as necks snap, heads bash, furniture flies, and bodies drop from above. Savage makes the most of the medium by sneakily hiding seams, strings, and software inside pixilated video to make his illusions appear more impressively epic than they¡¯d normally be.
It¡¯s too soon to tell what ¡°Host¡¯s¡± half-life is, but its entrenchment in 2020 topicality definitely turns it into a perishable product. Due to its simple design and effective execution, I¡¯m starting the score at 70/100 for being an entertaining serving of no-frills frights, though that grade will erode for future viewers as ¡°Host¡¯s¡± relationship to COVID conditions loses relevancy. In the meantime, the movie accurately captures what remote social interaction was like during 2020¡¯s quarantine, even including the use of elbow bump greetings and face masks worn outside.
Running just 56 minutes, ¡°Host¡± is certainly thin. But that brevity makes the movie more appealing than many real-life Zoom happy hours, conference calls, and virtual gatherings that drag on well after initial interest wanes. ¡°Host¡± keeps it together for an undemanding amount of time certain to satisfy easygoing appetites with a snack serving of scares. We¡¯ll have to wait to see how ¡°Host¡± holds up once those stomachs lose their taste for terror tied to a very specific time.
Review Score: 70