The Zoom call: A clunky but serviceable way to communicate with those who are not physically present.
The 400-Word Review: Host
By Sean Collier
August 1, 2020
A seance: A clunky but serviceable way to communicate with those who are not alive.
That was the stroke-of-genius connection made, only a few months ago, by writer/director Rob Savage and his co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd. The result is “Host,” a (nearly) feature-length work of genuinely unsettling horror presented as a Zoom call.
Six friends (Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward and Edward “Teddy” Linard, all of whom use their real names) have decided to spice up the coronavirus lockdown by arranging a virtual seance. They’ve hired a medium (Seylan Baxter), but only Haley is taking the proceedings seriously. When Jemma spins a fictional yarn about a deceased schoolmate, things start going bump on the call.
“Host” uses Zoom as a hook, and it’s a compelling idea; occurrences that are now routine, such as hearing a feedback echo or trying to determine why someone’s feed has stuttered, are handily rendered creepy by Savage and his performers (many of whom fulfilled extra duties; the film was made entirely in lockdown, and Savage was never in the same building as his cast).
Zoom is just the draw, though; the real twist of the knife is making us afraid of our homes at a time when we can’t leave. The script is smart enough to make the connection subtle, but it’s there: Be careful who you let under your roof right now.
“Host” borrows from established playbooks, to great effect. The format is the best use of the screen horror microgenre, as seen in the “Unfriended” films and a few others; while that series may have been the innovator, “Host” elevates the style. And while many scares are straight out of “Paranormal Activity,” the relevance of the Zoom setting revitalizes those tactics.
And adds a few new terrors. I never thought I’d be terrified of a wacky face-filter effect — until I saw it appear on a face that was not actually there.
“Host” throws in a few unnecessary glimpses of the villain during its climax, and — while the short running time is welcome — we could’ve used a bit more time to learn which character was which in the first act. Those quibbles aside, though, it’s a remarkable achievement. More importantly: It is very, very scary.
My Rating: 8/10
“Host” is now streaming via Shudder.