With Everything Going On Right Now, Quarantine Thriller Host (2020) Captures Unprecedented Terror
First Wide Release: July 30, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Rob Savage
Writer: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd
Runtime: 57 Minutes
Starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A group of friends gathers to participate in a Zoom séance to pass the time during quarantine. What starts as a fun way to bond during abnormal circumstances takes a turn for the worst when things start going wrong on the call, and I’m not talking about the Wi-Fi going in and out. Written and shot during lockdown, Host was created entirely on Zoom with large parts of the script improvised and all stuns and effects done by the actors themselves.
The story behind Host is more compelling than the story presented. Straightforward and easily digestible, the story progresses rather quickly. Without additional subplots or context, viewers are thrown into the action just like the characters are. This is not only an effective use of the limited time and budget constraints the film is operating under but also offers refreshing simplicity in its plot, something notably absent in recent high concept horror. This is not to say that either method is superior, in fact, the diversity of execution is welcome! While the story feels raw and genuine, the dialogue came off stiff every now and then. It makes sense, knowing that large swaths of Host is executed through improv, even if it is not ideal.
Due to the nature of Host’s setup, we did not get adequate enough time to get acquainted with the characters. Splitting the screen time of roughly seven characters into the confines of 57 minutes is a tall order even before factoring in characterization. The cast does a fine job playing their parts, but they all seemed pretty one dimensional. With one or two fewer main characters, it might have been easier to get to know the group before they start screaming in terror. On a positive note, the script does allow for each actor to do some pretty interesting scenarios that rely on the solo execution of stunts or effects. It is neat to see it play out in real-time.
The choice of presenting Host entirely on Zoom is pretty ingenious. Many found footage horror films have already carved out a niche in internet horror. Host works to elevate it beyond a setting. What could have been a gimmick or an under-realized concept, feels fully fleshed out with the script demanding full use of the platform’s ability to create panic and dread. The Zoom profile pictures, backgrounds, effects, ending credits, etc., are all nice little touches that elevate it to something special. The carnage unfolds on the screen in a static manner, but through these choices, the film still feels dynamic.
Host utilizes its microbudget without forgoing any necessities. The effects are realistic and in line with what Zoom offers. While what is being done is not mind-blowing, it feels natural for the movie they are making. To me, it is impressive to know that all of the actors pulled everything off on their own. Another great strength of Host is its use of sound. I absolutely love one scene in particular where they increase the sound on Zoom to amplify whispers and small sounds. It makes for some pretty intense scenes and, again, showcases their vast knowledge of the platform without winking at the audience.
A quick and nasty supernatural found footage film, Host is a sigh of relief for all horror fans worried at how the pandemic will affect filmmaking. I generally would like to see more fleshed out characters and more imaginative storytelling, but Host effectively told its brisk story with good pacing and assured thrills. It is dark and unrelenting in tone which absolutely fits in with the current climate. I cannot emphasize enough how much I adored Zoom being made into a setting for a horror film. It feels so right for however many hours a day I spend on it at work. Rob Savage’s sophomore picture is a wonderful starting point for his place in the genre. I look forward to seeing what he does with a bigger budget and more studio backing.
Fully embracing the times, we live in, Host captures the spirit of lockdown without making it central to the plot. I expect many films to come out of this moment in time and take a literal translation to the horror, namely infection and zombie-themed films. I am hopeful more take an approach similar to Host. Drawing more parallels to the present pandemic, I appreciate that the main moral of the story is to respect what you don’t understand. In Host, the group ignores warnings and rules about respecting the spirits and they pay the consequences for it. This feels like a very fitting tale for a society that refuses to follow scientific advice and guidelines to mitigate the effects of a pandemic.
Host opens up many opportunities for indie filmmakers to continue creating during the shutdown, which, to me, is the most exciting aspect of its inception. It effectively uses the current circumstances to craft a horror film unique to the reality we live in without feeling exploitative. While Host did keep my attention and entertained me, I felt like more could have been done. I’m not sure if it’s because of the shorter runtime or the constraints of Zoom, but either way, it was enjoyable to watch. If any of this sounds intriguing to you, don’t be late and miss the party. Sign up for Shudder so you can sign on for the Zoom call of your life… or death!
Overall Score? 6.5/10