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Host Review

July 31, 2020 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Host Shudder
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Host Review  

*Haley Bishop as Haley
*Jemma Moore as Jemma
*Emma Louise Webb as Emma
*Radina Drandova as Radina
*Caroline Ward as Caroline
*Edward Linard as Teddy

Story: Six friends hire a medium to hold a séance over Zoom during lockdown but get far more than they bargain for as things quickly go wrong.

One of the greatest things about horror is its ability to be timely in a way other genres sometimes fail to do. Staying with current trends and politics is something the genre has done since the beginning, either it’s the monster movies of the 1950s playing into nuclear war paranoia or movies like Dawn of the Dead and The Stuff looking at commercialism and big business. Even modern movies like Get Out and The Purge have played into what’s going on in the world. Horror has always stuck with the times and remained culturally relevant.

The current state of the world is lockdown. People are maintaining distance from each other due to the pandemic and that forced Hollywood to shut down for months. What it doesn’t stop, however, is creativity, and people have found a way to entertain and create new stories even now. Enter Host, a movie from Shudder that was shot entirely on Zoom. The director, Rob Savage, was never in the same room as any of the actors during the film’s production. I’d argue this approach to this film is one that couldn’t be pulled off in another genre.

It’s novel, to be sure, and something that could be the future if the world remains shut down indefinitely. The premise has things in common with Unfriended, in that a group of friends meeting online are stalked by a malevolent entity. Of course that film was shot in different times and had a bigger budget. Host has even more of a do-it-yourself approach as everything was done in each actor’s home on-camera. The actors operated their own cameras, handled their own sound and created their own special effects. Even if Host didn’t succeed as a film, it’s certainly a testament to guerrilla filmmaking.

However, it does succeed. It’s hard to say exactly why Host works. None of its ideas are new, as the people behind it would likely admit. The story, even some of the scares, have been done already. The only really new thing is how it was filmed. However, it’s how it uses all of these familiar elements that makes it stand out. It’s very simple but very effective, taking what works about these types of movies and leaving out what doesn’t. With only an hour runtime, it doesn’t have the time for a lot of extraneous nonsense.

If anything, it’s proof that the concept of ‘less is more’ can still work in 2020. With the right cast acting suitably terrified, and the gradual build of the supernatural elements, it is almost an expert class in suspense in an era when there aren’t many films still focused on that. That’s not to say this doesn’t have jump scares, because it does, but it also spent the majority of the film leading up to some of those big jump scares, so it earned them. They never feel cheap in the way that other found footage movies do.

One of those reasons is the timing. This movie is only an hour and while that may be too short for some, I think stretching it out would have hurt it. This is a very tightly-paced horror film that knows exactly when to hit its beats and how long to stretch out moments for. It also does have a few surprises and plenty of foreshadowing in the beginning that is paid off later. They packed a lot of content into only an hour of movie, and it flies by as a result.

The only real flaw isn’t exactly a problem with the movie itself. It’s actually more of a testament to how well it was made. Not every question you have is answered but that feels by design, as it sticks with the general concept of ‘nothing is scarier’. And not having those questions answered doesn’t feel frustrating or like a plot hole, as with some movies, but it feels more like the movie didn’t wear out its welcome and kept me wanting more. Good movies do that.

Another point in its favor is how impressive the effects were, especially since it was the cast themselves performing them in camera. Some of it you can figure it out, but some of the effects seem impossible to do practically given how the film was shot. And yet, finding out how it was done would feel like killing the magic a little.

Host is a film that shows how a little creativity and ingenuity can make for a better watch than if it had months of production time and ten times the budget. It has a likable cast, good scares, excellent pacing and never wears out its welcome. It’s on Shudder, since it’s a Shudder Original, but it’s definitely worth the subscription price.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Host is how it was made, but that's only because of how good it ends up being. It keeps things simple, embraces the concept of 'less is more' and crafts a spooky little horror film. It's not only a must-see movie, but it may end up being one of the best of the year.

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Host, Shudder, Joseph Lee