Image courtesy of heavenofhorror.com
When Britain was put under lockdown in late March, it was admittedly an unsettling and dark time for everyone. No one was sure what to do but stay in their homes and wait for the pandemic to blow over. And while I have my own issues with the government’s handle on controlling the pandemic, I think we can all agree that hosting an online séance can only make our new-normal lives worse, no?
Because in this Shudder original, director and co-writer Rob Savage doesn’t think so, and manages to turn the absurd premise of “Host” into a surprisingly ingenious horror film that succeeds in making the audience terrified of the one thing that is supposed to keep us safe during this tumultuous period: our home.
“Host” clearly takes inspiration from other ‘desktop’ horror films like “Unfriended,” and follows a group of friends performing a séance over a Zoom-call, which quickly turns into a horror show as a supernatural entity begins picking them off one by one. But in its mere 57-minute run time, Savage is able to use the lockdown to his advantage and create fully realised characters that we care about, which ups the intensity when shit really starts going down.
We’re not exactly sure how long these friends have been in lockdown for - because, you know, time has no meaning anymore - but I’m guessing it’s been a while, and like everyone else in the world right now, these ladies are bored, and looking for some excitement. And despite how contrived it is for Haley (Haley Bishop) to gather her friends for an online séance (seriously, would a drinking game not suffice?), it’s a testament to the direction and performances from the cast that this film would make us believe that these girls are really close and are being stalked by a demonic force.
Arguably, the most impressive thing about “Host” is how it incorporates the real-life consequences of the quarantine into the film. At the beginning, pieces of information are thrown our way about how the group have been handling the pandemic. Radina (Radina Drandova) is clearly regretting moving in with her boyfriend so quickly, and Caroline (Caroline Ward) is struggling to keep her elderly father in the house. Even when the film nears its climax, Jenna (Jenna Moore) puts on a mask when she leaves her house - and look, if someone can put a face covering on while running away from a malevolent spirit, then you can stomach a trip to the local Tesco wearing one as well!
“Host” is by no means a perfect horror film, but in its short run time, it gets a lot of things right. Savage’s main focus is building up tension and subverting expectations, so it is left to the cast to flesh out the ensemble of characters, and they do a great job of it, too. There are a bunch of jump scares, but they feel earned, and send your heart racing. In fact, there is a great bit of foreshadowing just after the initial exorcism of the demon, that once you spot it is spine chilling and leaves you anxiously waiting for shit to hit the fan (hint: look closely at the background of Radina’s screen!).
Seriously though, I highly suggest “Host,” it really is a fun watch! And if we are being honest, even if you end up hating it, it is only an hour-long watch, and what else have you got to do with your day? Better not be performing a séance over Facetime, that’s for damn sure.
“Host” is available to stream on Shudder (or, if you feel like walking on the wild side, is available for free on YouTube).