Not to be confused the similarly-named Bong Joon-ho creature feature from 2006 or the 2013 adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s attempt to ruin alien invaders the way she did vampires, Host is a new film from director Rob Savage (of TV’s Brittania). Inspired by a now-viral online prank that Savage played on his friends during an actual video call earlier this year, Host may very well be this year’s signature horror film.
In the midst of a COVID-19 quarantine, a group of friends meets online for their regular Zoom call. On this particular call, they’re joined by Seylan (Seylan Baxter, of 2015’s Macbeth), a medium, who will perform a séance to let them communicate with the dead. Whether this is out of curiosity or boredom isn’t entirely established, but the film lets us know that somebody will drink a shot whenever the words “astral plane” are mentioned. In any case, the séance begins, somebody breaks the rules the medium laid down, and everybody on the call falls on the bad side of a demonic entity. Who lives? Who dies? And who survives the film’s lean 56-minute runtime?
It’s a screenfest
So it’s come to this: with everybody on lockdown for what feels like ten years at this point, it was only a matter of time before somebody took the tropes of the (now-) common video conference and adapted them into a full-length film. The aesthetic will be familiar to anyone who’s made use of Zoom, with the film’s real-time aspect distinguishing it from the likes of Cannibal Holocaust (1980) or The Blair Witch Project (1999) – this isn’t footage found after the fact, this is happening NOW. Furthermore, with the world essentially under lockdown, Host is a nice little diversion from the ongoing horror film we’ve found ourselves in. One wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more films of this type in the coming months.
It’s made of selfie videos
Unlike similarly-executed films like Open Windows (2014), Unfriended (2015), or Searching (2018), which were shot conventionally and edited to appear like they were taking place across a variety of apps on a computer screen, Host was, for the most part, shot remotely by the people starring in it. With each actor shooting in their own homes, Savage had to walk each one through their roles, actions, and camera angles in order to get the desired effect.
The illusion is (mostly) real
With postproduction trickery kept to a minimum, much of the supernatural goings-on occur in-camera, relying more on on-set gimmickry and clever angles than, say, CGI or a green screen. This is a low-budget affair, and it shows, but, given the narrative, one wouldn’t expect it to look as polished as a traditional studio picture anyway. If nothing else, this “homemade” aesthetic makes the areas in which Savage does employ visual effects trickery all the more surprising and effective.
Mind games and jump scares
A slow burn of an opening quickly gives way to gives way a roller coaster ride of shocks and scares. As Savage ramps up the tension, we’re along for the ride, eager to see the evil Jemma’s unwillingly unleashed. Starting off with strange sounds in the dark and escalating from there, this is a haunted house movie with a 21st century facade; Savage employs strange noises, jump scares, and monsters hidden in plain sight, before upping the ante with Zoom filters, virtual backgrounds, and — yes — meeting participants inexplicably on mute. One doesn’t know how Host will play on succeeding viewings, but first-time viewers should be suitably entertained.
The actors are, for the most part, performers that Savage has worked with on previous projects, and the decision to name most of their characters after them adds a level of verisimilitude to the project. The fact that they’re largely unknowns helps as well, as the viewer is kept guessing who will survive the malevolent spirit’s rampage. Unfortunately, as with most genre ensembles, some are relegated to token roles, like Emma Louise Webb’s (of TV’s The Crown) Emma, who has little to do other than whimper in fear, and Edward Linard’s Teddy, who exists purely to introduce creepy props and a swimming pool.
When it comes to the characters, none really make an impression or stand out all that much, other than Jemma (Jemma Moore, of the direct-to-video Doom: Annihilation), who asks the all-important question of whether or not her Chinese ancestors would be able to communicate with their English-speaking descendant. Later on, it is Jemma’s willful ignoring of the medium’s warnings that kick off the horrors to come.
The soberest of the group, Haley (Haley Bishop, Angel Has Fallen) is also the one taking the séance the most seriously. As the lone foreigner (American) in the film’s (presumably) English setting, it’s a nice reminder that this film, and all of its innovation, comes from outside the Hollywood studio system.
The bottom line
Refreshing as it is to be watching anything new in this lockdown, Host is a taut, lean horror film that makes good use of its central conceit, delivering solid scares on a limited budget, made all the more effective by the fact that you’ll probably have to watch it on a device that already has Zoom installed.
Have you watched Host? Tell us what you think about it in the comments below.