REVIEW: Host (2020)
Online pub quizzes make way for paranormal activity in this brilliantly refreshing, relentlessly unsettling new scare-fest that has every reason to go the way of a daily online team meeting, but doesn’t. That’s because director Rob Savage makes a solid effort to highlight the standard horror tropes fans are prepped for, before tweaking the loading times perfectly.
An exceptional effort in filmmaking during these constricted times, Host sees a group of girls have their routine virtual get together during lockdown, only to mix things up with a seance. Formulaic but frightening all the same, things get creepy when one of the members of the group rubs the spirits that have entered the chat the wrong way, and it soon becomes clear not even social distancing can keep them safe as Zoom quickly spells Doom for them all.
The warning signs for everything you definitely shouldn’t do during a seance are glaringly obvious as various parties snigger, and eye-roll as the lights go down, and you’re already playing ‘guess who dies first’. From there though, Savage manages to follow and fortify the found footage sub-genre of ‘video-call’ movies with brand new bits of trickery, firstly making it feel as natural as possible, before adding the ‘super’ part with spine-tingling efficiency. It’s the same reason the likes of Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and •REC worked so well. Much the same as the likes of Searching and Unfriended, Host leans into the environment it sets itself in and plays with all possible elements. Everything from connection issues to camera filters are used to build the terror, and its high success rate is thanks to those on the call.
With no more than five or six characters present throughout, Savage fleshes out these friends before scaring the crap out of them, getting to know their prickly relationships on and offline, which is something that horror films rarely get right. Having them presented in an actual Zoom call makes the familiarity immediately accessible and also unavoidable, as it’s been a part of so many of our lives for the past few months. A few laughs to start off soon turn into feigned smiles and whispers should any one of them go away from the keyboard, making it feel like a genuine catch-up with mates. Throwing in little details about where each person on the call is during this pandemic makes them feel ever more present. From Radina being stuck in her flat with her now ex-boyfriend, to an awkward Dad flashing the group when he’s caught on camera, these interactions solidify the chemistry for a good time before they head into a bad one. It’s a great effort from both the cast and Savage to give so much with so little, but Host is all the better for it.
Logging in at around 56 minutes, this skin-freezing entry neither outstays its welcome, or wastes time with what it has. It feels like a ghost train running from the comfort of your own home, rolling along smoothly before it starts to jerk you in a way you’re fearing it might. As candles flicker and lights dim, we’re forced to look through the lens of laptop cameras that lean into the pixelated pitch black to see what’s out there, praying that nothing jumps back. It’s an impressive effort given some of the grisly and ghoulish detail applied for any found footage horror, but even more so during current events. To have spread these scares across each actors individual homes during lockdown looks faultless and lands with every bump, creak and Zoom feature-based fright, even if some of the effort to get there is somewhat questionable.
There are brief moments that characters behave in a way no normal human being would, all for a good scare. Besides ignoring the obvious tactic of running out of the house and down the street from the off, the camera often strolls past light switches in dark rooms, begging the question not only why is it not being used, but also why is someone walking down a dark hallway with their open laptop facing the wrong way. Seriously, good luck explaining that when you take it back to PC World after it’s taken a tumble. These are minor issues in an all-but accomplished entry to found footage films. Savage’s Host is a testament to impressive creativity regardless of the limitations, and will have you on the edge of your seat until the credits scroll.
Directed by: Rob Savage
Written by: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd
Cast: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb