Host is a supernatural horror movie from director Rob Savage, filmed entirely on laptops and phones, using the video conferencing software Zoom and adhering to quarantine rules. It might well be the first movie referencing the COVID-19 crisis and it certainly seems to be the first one to use isolation restrictions to its advantage.
A group of six friends convene for a catch up over Zoom, in order to take part in a sÃ©ance put together by organiser Haley (Haley Bishop). Although everyone in the group is pleased to see each other, a couple of the friends are less than keen on the idea of a sÃ©ance. Caroline (Caroline Ward) and Emma (Emma Louise Webb) are anxious about the event and approach with caution, while Jemma (Jemma Moore) and the annoying Teddy (Edward Linard) are both more than a little sceptical about the whole thing. The final participant, Radina (Radina Drandova), is simply glad to be chatting with her friends, having been driven to distraction by her partner during quarantine.
The friends are joined by medium Seylan (Seylan Baxter) to walk them through the sÃ©ance. Unfortunately, things begin to go wrong almost immediately, from faulty internet connections, to strange noises. Before they know it, the strange occurrences are escalating and the friends have opened the door to an evil spirit intent on terrorising them.
Running to a very brisk fifty-six minutes, Host manages to take the confines of the pandemic lockdown and turn what might appear to be problems, to its advantage. The Zoom conference concept works perfectly for a film of this style, using Zoom’s features to create scares and enforce a time limit on the proceedings. The split screen and front facing viewpoints meaning the viewer is perpetually scanning the background for clues or ghostly apparitions. It’s impossible to watch every participant at the same time and although it switches to a single camera for certain events, there is surely fun to be had in rewinding or rewatching the film in order to try and spot the catalyst when things escalate.
It will be hard not to think of The Blair Witch Project when watching Host and although it’s not quite the same calibre as Myrik and Sanchez’s masterpiece, Host is a similarly micro-budgeted lesson in transcending the sum of its parts. To set it apart, Host is not really a found footage movie since there’s never any reference to this footage being recovered. It’s more like Aneesh Chaganty’s recent thriller Searching, as the story unfolds entirely on the screen of characters within the film.
But more than anything, Host is really more of a corrupted broadcast and thus has much in common with the BBCs infamous Ghostwatch movie that terrorised the UK (myself included) on Halloween night 1992. Host even goes so far as to riff on one of Ghostwatch‘s notorious scares, which is a nice touch.
Host can’t escape all of the problems posed by its low budget and restricted production, however. There is a lot of blurry-can’t-tell-what’s-going-on running about, which is a bit of an effects and story fudge, but certainly a forgivable one – unless you’re prone to motion sickness.
Otherwise, Host really is quite an impressive feat for a film that sounds on paper like it could be very one dimensional. Host proves that not only is this untrue, but there is far more to it than mere novelty horror. Because while Host might be conceptually modern, its core belief in unseen terror and the horror of our own imaginations, is as classic as it gets.
‘Host’ is now streaming on Shudder.