The set-up is simple. We are watching a Zoom session between six friends who have come together for one of those regular lockdown activities that we all have taken part in. But this time it’s not a virtual watch-along or a quiz or an awkward chat with relatives in distant corners of the country. Tonight they are taking part in a séance. But their dabble with the supernatural, with some of their numbers taking the activity notably less seriously than others, brings an entity in that will cause them a lot of problems. There is a double meaning to this film’s name as the group play host to something they really should not dabble with.
Taking place in real-time, Host begins with an effective period of set-up as we are quickly introduced to our group of friends. They come with well-rounded personalities that manage to be subtle enough to not overwhelm the film whilst making this a likeable, interesting group to spend time with. The tensions and strains of lockdown are all there but the film doesn’t linger on them (it would waste precious moments to terrify audiences later on). Savage along with his co-writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley expertly pump the first half of Host with a claustrophobic dread. Part of the early impact of this film is a keen awareness of how awful Zoom is. How uncomfortable we all feel on it. And how our use of this platform is attempting to fill the void of human contact.
And with this all built in along comes the supernatural elements to put the characters (and the audience) through the ringer. Incidents escalate slowly as the awkward humour of the first act drains away, leaving a vacuum for the horror we are witnessing to envelop the film. Savage is not afraid to mix practical with the virtual, playing with all that Zoom has to offer to enhance the haunting on screen. There are a number of set pieces that genuinely upset and you’ll squirm, feeling as trapped in this situation as the friends taking part in the séance.
Will the film work in ten years’ time when this pandemic will, hopefully, be a distant memory? Probably not. It isn’t even the best shared screen horror conceived (Death of a Vlogger manages to say more about the culture that has popped up around our use of the internet), and it certainly becomes less interesting during the second half, which probably shows how effective the establishing scenes are. But what Host is, is a rapidly conceived response to the moment. It is a delightful experiment, using the limitations thrust upon us due to 2020 being so very, well, 2020 to create something genuinely chilling, awash with dread and packed with enough effective scares to mask limitations. Host shows the kind-of bravado and technical prowess that I can’t quite get my head around what the team have achieved. It certainly taps into a moment horror is having right now (along with The Invisible Man and Graham Hughes’ aforementioned film) where the terror is firmly in our home. So boot up your laptop and sign in to the Zoom meeting from hell.
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