A group of friends quarantining at home, hope to have a little fun one night by attempting to connect with the dead. Their good time turns very bad, as they will open the door to something truly terrifying. If your Zoom fatigue wasn’t real before, this film will certainly have you cancelling your future virtual happy hours. Entirely developed and filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, Host is a tense, fear-inducing story that takes creative twists on the concept of “found footage” film.
In the middle of a global pandemic, Haley and her friends have been responsible in quarantining at home, using Zoom calls to hang out. For tonight’s call, Haley has a spiritualist named Seylan joining, and warns her friends to please be respectful and take it seriously. They each bring along a memento of a loved one, in order to connect with them on the other side. But things get off to a rocky start.
Only a few minutes in, Teddy is interrupted by his girlfriend who mocks the call and signs him off. As they all try to get back to focusing on the séance, Jemma begins to experience something and believes it to be the spirit of a boy she knew who had killed himself. However, she soon admits to fibbing about her story, but unexplained supernatural occurrences begin to happen to each of them. This leads Seylan to fear that they’ve left something else through, something evil.
The film itself is based on a short that director Rob Savage made at the start of the lockdown. It was a prank on his friends, but once he shared it online, it was well received, inspiring him to make a feature film based around the same concept – a Zoom call haunting. Alongside writing partners Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, the full film Host debuted on Shudder on July 30th.
While there have been several films that have utilized the video chat function, sharing scares through computer screens, this improved upon that. In those other movies, they almost exacerbated the annoyances of video calls for effect, but they just annoyed me during viewing. It’s already frustrating enough to have poor connection, and it’s even less fun when it’s overused for no reason in your entertainment. This movie does a great job of being realistic about it, without leaning into it too much.
I think the overall concept is extremely effective, but it’s also easy to rely too heavily on the gimmick. Having several smaller screens to focus on builds great tension, as it draws in your eye as you wait for something to appear – but it all has to pay off. With Host we’re given that payoff, which is a great mix of practical effects, big jump scares, and some more subtle eeriness.
The film treats us to fantastic pacing, with the whole thing clocking in just under an hour. We’re introduced to our characters just enough to understand their friendship dynamic, in a really organic way; that’s realistic for the setting of the film. It doesn’t take long for spooky things to begin happening and it does not take any breaks along the way.
There are some classic scare tactics used, but the film puts some more unique twists on them. We even get some inventive use out of those fun Zoom filters, that could be hokey had the film not done such a great job with setting its tone. It is just so wild that they were able to create this entire film, within the restrictions of COVID, having the cast responsible for setting up all the gags used – and boy are they scary!
Host is currently available on Shudder and if I recommend one thing to you this spooky season, it’s this film. It’s one of the scariest films I’ve seen recently, which is extremely impressive, especially when you consider all the obstacles they had to have gone through. I also loved the creative, Zoom-inspired end credits. It’s just a great, total package.