Sometimes a movie is entertaining for all the wrong reasons...
...It sets out to tell its story the best it can but botches the execution in such dramatic fashion that you just can’t help but fall in love with it. For the first 25 minutes of Adam Leader and Richard Oakes’ Hosts (not to be confused with this year’s smash hit Host) I was sure I was watching that kind of film. Then it turns on a dime, becoming a viewing experience so dread-inducing that I was literally on the edge of my chair. Then, incredibly, it reverts to what it appeared to be in the beginning. The film oscillates between these two territories, from unintentional camp to expertly enacted horror and back again, so much so that by its end I felt simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted.
On paper, Hosts sounds like a film destined to be a new holiday horror classic. A family invites a young couple over for Christmas Eve dinner, but soon realizes that the friends they once knew have been replaced by something demonic. Their night becomes anything but silent as they attempt to survive the diabolic duo’s gruesome attacks and mind-games. Lives are lost, long kept secrets from within their ranks are revealed, and they soon discover what’s happening in their home that evening isn’t a localized event: it’s a full-scale invasion.
The most infuriatingly consistent problem with Hosts is its dialogue. It would easily be at home in a bad television sitcom or Hallmark movie of the week, and it’s all the more glaring because of how serious the film takes itself. Moody lighting, somber music, and shots of dreary countryside and trainyards are all presented to us before a single person speaks, and seem to say to the viewer that the next hour and a half will be a dark and gritty one. But then the characters start talking to each other and the absolute unbelievability of their exchanges are so startling against the backdrop of everything else in the film that the effect is almost dizzying. We’re not talking about your standard slasher film “nobody talks like that in real life” kind of dialogue, either. There are lines in Hosts that feel as if they could have appeared in The Room, and I say that with zero exaggeration.
This all leads to one of the strangest moments in a film this reviewer has experienced in some time. As they all sit down to Christmas eve dinner, Cassie, the matriarch of the family played by Jennifer K. Preston, asks to say a few words. She then begins to speak of her battle with terminal cancer. She talks about it so casually at first that I had to rewind the scene to make sure I was hearing it correctly. Cassie speaks of her impending death, gives headshakingily inaccurate information about the purpose of chemotherapy, then reveals that she has miraculously become cancer free. At this point, I was full-on cackling. Everything about the scene feels bonkers, from the delivery of the monologue to the absolutely unnatural reactions of her family sitting around the table, and for a few seconds I felt giddy thinking this was what I could expect from the rest of its runtime.
And then, as the family raises their glasses for a toast, one of their demonically possessed houseguests raises a hammer in the air and proceeds to cave in the mother’s skull until it is nothing more than pulp and hair on their dining room table. Her family screams, blood and brains fly, and I was so startled by the scene’s brutality that I very nearly fell out of my chair. The proceeding moments after the mother’s murder are so tension filled and dreadful (in a good way) that I felt sick to my stomach. Neal Ward and Nadia Lamin, who play the possessed couple, are terrifying as they circle the dining room table and quietly loom over the remaining shocked and heartbroken family members. In a matter of minutes, it felt as if I was watching a completely different movie.
That scene is Hosts in a nutshell: lows that make you groan with impatience, followed by highs that deeply horrify, and back again. There is no middle ground, just the two extremes, and they can switch in lightning fast succession. Later in the film there’s a showdown between the father (Frank Jakeman) and one of his sons (Lee Hunter) in their garage. The buildup to the former realizing that the latter has been possessed by one of the demonic entities is masterful, the kind of scene that makes you yell at the screen in an attempt to warn the character you’re watching march towards certain doom. But then, as they wrestle each other to the ground and the father begins to strangle his son, the camera cuts to a painting seen earlier in one of the bedrooms which depicts the Old Testament’s Abraham seconds away from sacrificing his son Isaac upon a stone altar. All of the goodwill built in the scene’s setup is dashed as we flash to the painting over and over again, bludgeoning the audience with its clumsy symbolism.
When Hosts finished, it took me several moments to get up out of my seat. My senses felt flayed and I had a very difficult time getting to sleep that night. I’m still trying to decide if it’s a bad film elevated by some exceptional scenes and performances, or the complete inverse of that. Whatever conclusion I come to, I can definitely say that it’s one of the most memorable films I’ve seen in a very long time. So, do yourself a favor: when you eventually hear it knocking at your door, set the table, polish up the silverware, dust off the china, and invite the movie in. You won’t regret it.
Hosts comes to VOD/Digital from Dark Sky Films on October 2nd.
By Patrick Brennan