[Review] 'Host' Welcomes You to an Inventive Scarefest Best Watched with the Lights Off
In March, the world shut down...
...People found themselves confined to their homes, quarantined to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In April, after about a month of relying solely on Zoom and other online platforms for interactions, horror director Rob Savage (Dawn of the Deaf) made a two-minute short from a Zoom conversation in which he scared the crap out of his friends. Shudder—along with most of the horror world—loved the prank and approached Savage about a full-length feature shot using the same medium. So, on July 30th Shudder will unveil Host, a ‘filmed-in-quarantine’ movie about a group of friends who decide to turn their homes into gateways for the undead. The style of the film is reminiscent of a more exciting Unfriended, except Host places the six main characters in the realistic world of COVID quarantine. Despite the short amount of time from conception to creation, limited resources, and all the restrictions associated with lockdown precautions, Host delivers a fun amount of scares.
Savage teamed up with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, and the trio wrote a script about six social-distancing friends looking for a creative means to break up the monotony of lockdown. In the film Haley Bishop (Deep State) convinces her friends Radina Drandova (Dawn of the Deaf), Edward Linard (The Rebels), Jemma Moore (Doom: Annihilation), Caroline Ward (Stalling It), and Emma Louise Webb (The Crown) to join her on Zoom for a medium-led séance. Shot in six different homes, the film relies heavily on the presence and command of the six actors. While Savage, Hurley, and Shepherd get the billing for director and writers, the entire cast should earn credit for acting, cinematography, special effects, and lighting. During the making of the movie, the cast and crew followed quarantine protocols and therefore could never physically interact with each other and were never in the same room together. Thus, each actor became responsible for successfully framing, filming, and lighting themselves as well as executing some of the special effects. Fortunately, Savage casted well; everyone provides captivating scenes with an assortment of scares.
The film does not rely on any settings or really any kind of plot, but the absence of story or location beyond the computer screen is hardly noticed. These elements are almost unnecessary; we are all living in the characters’ situation. We don’t need extra dialogue explaining why the friends are conversing on Zoom or any other details about them because the set-up to this film echoes our current lives. The familiarity of the story even elicits a certain level of emotion. Many of us have, over the last few months, become well-acquainted with Zoom and therefore associate feelings of camaraderie and love or even social anxiety and depression with the platform. Also, the conversations leading up to the séance reflect Zoom chats we’ve all had as we see the cast discuss the lockdown, dealing with people breaking quarantine etiquette, and jovial attempts at a virtual happy hour.
Using Zoom, the director focuses on the six home-bound friends and their individual responses to the simultaneously unfolding events. While the movie does touch on the present-day ideas of isolation and feeling trapped within our own homes, Host also heavily introduces the feeling of helplessness. Seeing and hearing a close friend in peril with no physical way of assisting them places both the characters and viewers in an unsettling and powerless situation. One by one, each chat member explores mysterious sounds or movements in their darkened homes, giving us the close-up found-footage reaction, and we see the friends grow increasingly worried as they realize they exist as little more than useless onlookers.
It is always enjoyable to see new forms of horror, and one of the things Host’s innovation highlights best is the idea that no director should let money, space, or access to equipment limit their inventiveness. Savage got in on the Zoom-horror subgenre early, so his film earns some definite creativity points, and it may not be an easy success for other directors to recreate given the medium’s limitations. Do I want to see loads of Zoom films invading the movie scene? Definitely not. Am I happy to see directors, writers, and actors continuing to find ways to express and create? Hell yes! So, dear reader, watch the film for the sake of enjoying a horror movie, for inspiration on creating your own film, or for clever ways to scare your friends and family during your next Zoom chat. Host might come off as a gimmick to some, but its creepy atmosphere and decent jump scares make it a definite fun film to watch with the lights off.
Host comes to Shudder July 30th.
By Amylou Ahava
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