Review: ‘Host’ is a Horror Film for the Here and Now
By Daniel Rester
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve spent some time with friends over the Internet by playing video games, talking through video chats, and so on. But I haven’t made a film using Zoom. And I haven’t done an online seance.
That’s the core of Host, a new horror film from Rob Savage currently streaming on Shudder. He developed, produced, and released the 57-minute film all within about three months during quarantine restrictions. Savage and his cast did this using the platform Zoom and taking advantage of the “computer screen” subgenre.
Host takes place during the pandemic, with six socially distancing friends deciding to do a seance over a video chat. A few minutes into the seance, one of the friends messes up and invites an unwanted spirit into the occasion. It doesn’t take long for shit to hit the fan in each of households belonging to the friends.
Savage’s film isn’t the first computer screen feature. They have been here for a while actually, with films such as the horror flicks The Collingswood Story (2006), The Den (2014), and Unfriended (2014) and the thriller Searching (2018). But Host still feels a bit like a landmark movie. It’s timely and has brought more attention to the computer screen subgenre during an uncertain time in the filmmaking industry.
A lot of the success of Host rides on the performances. Thankfully all of Savage’s actresses turn in believable performances. With the quarantine restrictions, they also had to learn a bit about doing lighting and visual effects setups.
Speaking of the visual effects, they are playful and entertaining. The scare tricks are mostly familiar but are done well. Things fly around in kitchens, people are dragged out of rooms by spirits, and so on. There is a fresh scare involving a face filter app, though.
Thankfully the scares come from the spirits from the seance. Savage doesn’t exploit the real-life pandemic for jumps. He just acknowledges COVID-19 for little story points, such as with characters wearing face masks while outside and mentions of quarantining.
Savage and his editor Brenna Rangott do well at cutting between the various video screens belonging to the characters. The shift in focus to certain characters is smooth through the editing and dialogue flow. This could have been a confusing mess. Instead it has a nice pace and a strong building of tension. The final twenty minutes or so are especially effective as Savage starts to scare the pants off of the viewers.
Host isn’t any horror masterpiece like The Exorcist (1973) or The Shining (1980), but it is a horror film with impact. I have a feeling it will be looked at in the future as a time capsule of the filmmaking scene during the COVID-19 pandemic. At any time it’s viewed, though, it’s an efficient chiller.
My Grade: 8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B+)
MPA Rating: NR
Running Time: 57min
USA Release Date: July 30th, 2020 (Shudder release)