Directed By: Rob Savage, Written By: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage & Jed Shepherd, Starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb & Radina Drandova.
There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought that ‘Found Footage Horror’ was the epitome of barrel-scraping. As a film making tool, it’s cheap, often nauseating (motion sickness) and done to death. Then along came Unfriended (2014). A concept so abysmal that it made found footage seem like Kubrick. Goodbye shaky handy cam, hello Skype Horror. A subgenre that nobody asked for, Unfriended left me feeling both cold and concerned that my beloved horror movies would spend the next decade or so at the mercy of this new, dreadful gimmick.
So, it was with immense trepidation that I figured I’d give Host a shot. I didn’t expect much. I certainly didn’t expect to like it. After all, it looked like just another Unfriended cash in. Even the poster art does nothing to suggest it isn’t just another knock off of that movie that I loathed. Boy, was I wrong...
Let’s start by looking at the plot. Yes, there is one and yes, it is incredibly simple. The year is 2020. Great Britain finds itself in lockdown due to a pandemic that has swept the planet, claiming thousands of lives, and throwing the world into chaos. Sounds like a plot device that great sci-fi/horror movies have been milking for decades, right? Well, yeah, but as we all know, It’s all very real. We have been living this fantastical reality for months now.
Due to having to self-isolate, a group of friends gather online via a Zoom video call. The host of the call, Haley (Haley Bishop) calls her friends together hoping to have a little adventure, to cure the banality of being stuck inside. She has arranged for a medium to guide them through an online seance where they can create a virtual circle and hopefully communicate with the dead. Of course, nobody except Haley and Seylan (the medium) takes it seriously. Unfortunately, they really should have because once a member of the group named Jemma (Jemma Moore) starts goofing around, she accidentally invites something far more sinister than your average ghost into the proceedings.
As the group laugh, joke and constantly break the circle to vanish to the bathroom and whatnot, Seylan’s internet feed goes down, leaving the girls to fend for themselves against the demonic doings that follow.
I know, I know. Nothing about what I have written regarding the plot sounds all that original. I wouldn’t be that enticed after reading what I’ve just written either. Trust me when I say that I’m not doing it justice. Once Seylan is out of the picture, things go from 0 to creepy pretty ‘fucking’ quickly.
The first thing that intrigued me about Host is that they shot it during lockdown. Each of the actors filmed their parts in their own homes, and from what I can tell, a lot of the dialogue was ad-libbed. It works beautifully because the cast does such a wonderful job that you would never know it wasn’t scripted. The actors never got to meet the director or other cast members in person, yet the chemistry between the girls feels 100% genuine.
The tension that builds as spooky shit begins to happen is especially well crafted. It’s nail-biting, it’s daunting, and I found myself constantly straining to try to spot something lurking in the dark, negative spaces that fill each shot.
The runtime of 56 mins only adds to the suspense. Host is a solid, compact, edge of your seat experience. There were times when I found myself holding my breath in apprehension of what would come lurching out of the darkness.
I guess if you needed a lazy comparison, Host is like a cross between Unfriended and Paranormal Activity. That’s the closest I can offer you to an idea of what the film is like, but if you’re not a fan of either of those movies, you shouldn’t let that put you off seeing it.
The effects are creative and well realised. It blows my mind that director Rob Savage recorded the actor’s parts over a Zoom call and then took what he had and made it work as a compelling horror film. I don’t know what kind of budget he was playing with, but what appears on screen doesn't scream cheap or penny-pinching.
In a year where there has been a significant drought in the recent movies department, I could be excused for seeking entertainment where I can find it, to an extent where I fawn over a movie that doesn’t really deserve it and all because I’m just happy to see something new. That really isn’t the case here though, and I stand by every statement made in this review. Sure, filming and setting it during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 will date this movie, it will also act as a way of revisiting this extraordinary moment in history that I doubt any of us ever expected to live to see.
Host is a movie I went into with low expectations, and when I say low, I mean sublevel. Instead, I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved the performances. Not one character annoyed me, and that is a rare thing. I loved how the film was paced. I thought the special effects, while minimal, were well achieved. I just had a great time with this movie. There are jump scares aplenty, but not one of them feels undeserved. It achieved exactly what a good horror movie should. It got the blood pumping and was just a solid, good time. That’s pretty much all you can ask for.