Whilst most of us have been spending lockdown baking banana bread, binge-watching shows on Netflix, and playing quizzes, filmmaker Rob Savage has gone and made a film. Filmed and told using the Zoom video chat platform, Host follows a group of friends whom meet up online during the Coronavirus pandemic for a catch-up. Rather than play a quiz, watch a TV show, or film together, they have decided to give a séance a go. What could possibly go wrong right? A lot it turns out, as after an innocent prank, the group unwittingly invite a rather malevolent presence to the party. One with a taste for blood.
I know the idea of a film shot in such a short amount of time, on a platform that most of us had never heard of back in January, might sound a little dubious, but with Host, Savage has crafted a pretty remarkable and timely horror. Obvious comparisons will be drawn to the Unfriended films, but Host has the edge as it feels a lot more real and generates genuine and unexpected scares. There’s something about the fact that the characters are living in exactly the same world as us that makes things that extra bit creepy. It’s like seeing ourselves reflected back, and this causes the goose-flesh to rise way before we get to the good stuff
At fifty-six minutes long, Host certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. The story plays out in real time, with the bulk of it taking place during the zoom call, meaning that we have a good forty minutes of seance, and a lot of opportunity for chills. Our characters also feel like normal people, whether that has anything to do with the fact that the film will have been shot within the cast’s own houses remains to be seen, but it certainly helps us connect. It’s a similar phenomena in Death of a Vlogger; there’s something about knowing you’re looking into someone’s home that makes things feel more intimate and real. The fourth wall has been broken and we have been invited into these people’s safe spaces. Having the locations being actual homes also imbues the film with that lived-in feeling, which again reinforces that if this can happen there, it can happen in your own home too. During the opening moments, we meet the group of friends prior to the seance and the dialogue and interactions feel so authentic that you may find yourself double checking that you’ve definitely pressed play on the movie and not accidentally joined someone else’s Zoom call. This uncomfortable sensation soon passes, and at this point you begin to feel like you’re one of them.
Don’t let the super swift run-time put you off, as Savage and his co-writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley, pack a lot in. Honestly, there’s more engaging character relationships, tension, atmosphere, and wry humour here, than in most films double the run-time. Usually, films that fall around the hour mark feel too short, and frustration sets in as you find yourself wishing for an extra ten minutes here and there to really flesh out the story more. Host however, is perfectly paced and leaves you nicely satisfied.
What the team manage to pull off in this film is a marvel for any low budget indie, let alone one filmed at a social distance. Once the action gets going, we’re treated to a non-stop thrill ride of falls, throws, and even a levitation. Savage was clearly a magician in another life as the things he manages to project on screen, given the obvious limitations, are nothing short of astounding. There’s so much going on that it really does put bigger budget productions such as Unfriended to shame. Some of the stunts and tricks are so effective that you’ll most definitely be trying to figure out how they achieved them all.
A wonderfully surprising venture that may make you reassess your own lockdown achievements, Host is an exceptional example of the spirit of film-making. Global pandemic? That’s not going to stop the film industry, not when there are realised ideas as innovative and as well made at this one.
An unexpected, but very welcome surprise, Host is the innovative and timely horror that we all need right now.
Host is available on Blu-ray and Digital platforms now.
This review first appeared on THN.