Host (2020) Review!!

Synopsis – Six friends hire a medium to hold a seance via Zoom during lock down – but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong. When an evil spirit starts invading their homes, they begin to realize they might not survive the night.

My Take – With the current pandemic continuing to stretch on with no end in sight, social distancing implementations continues to be at its height (even though a wide number of imbeciles, for some reason, still refuse to follow it). Effectively putting an end to social gatherings, partying or any event which would result in a gathering of a mass number of crowd.

However, amidst this all, Zoom, a video telephony and online chat service has become the go to app for anyone looking to communicate via video conferencing with their family, friends or anyone they can no longer meet for the fear of exposing each other to the deadly virus.

While the app has become a sort of a window into the outside world for many, like everything product or service, I was not surprised when someone decided to ruin our future experience (especially the faint-hearted and the jittery lot like myself), by adding horror elements and death into the mix. After all this isn’t some fictional social media app like the ones used in tech-based genre films like Open Windows, and Searching, it is actually Zoom. And the faces on the screen could be any group of friends, and the relaxed, naturalistic performances from the actors immediately create a sense of plausibility that makes things really scary.

Co-written and directed by Rob Savage (Strings), this latest horror film to hit Shudder, a subscription-based horror streaming service, was actually written, filmed, and finished during quarantine, with the crew never interacting with the actors in person, and just guided them remotely through not just performance, but through the camera setups and stunt work to be carried out in their own homes.

And I must say, the results are fascinating, making this one probably the best horror film of 2020.

While comparisons to the Unfriended films are inevitable, yet this film simply scores higher by not just sticking to the pandemic rules of social distancing, but also by effectively using the technological limits of ghostly, effects-light scares and the very platform of Zoom on which they it is recorded.

Running for a brief 56 minutes, this lean and mean slice of horror is clearly a big coup for Shudder, who continues to bring in not just creepy content, but material that can be deemed clever and effective even by the non-fans of the genre.

The story is pretty simple and follows a group of friends namely Haley (Haley Bishop), Radina (Radina Drandova), Jemma (Jemma Moore), Caroline (Caroline Ward), Emma (Emma Louise Webb) and Teddy (Edward Linard) who start a Zoom meeting one evening during the pandemic, just to drink, laugh and catch up. However, to make things interesting Haley has also invited Seylan (Seylan Baxter), a middle aged clairvoyant to lead the group through a virtual séance. While things start off fairly simple, with everyone except Jemma, taking it seriously, soon things start to get very strange and scary when they realize they may have summoned a supernatural entity.

The concept here alone demands a watch, as the film manages to take the confines of the pandemic lockdown and turn what might appear to be problems, to its advantage. Here, director Savage takes advantage of the medium without overextending his reach. Instead, he leans on the peripheral horror, knowing damn well we’re going to be scanning every frame of the picture. But here’s the thing: There are over six frames at any given moment, all of which only exacerbate the tension and anxiety throughout, and director Savage dolls out the scares with the utmost patience.

The greatest thrill to the film is how relatable it all feels, as it digs into the illusions of normalcy we try to build around ourselves, and how quickly those walls can come tumbling down. It succeeds because it taps directly into the experience that millions of people have themselves lived through since March, and continue to live through. Director Savage and co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd confront both the feelings of isolation for those living alone, and of those who miss their alone time, such as Radina, who’s feeling strained by her fragile relationship with a boyfriend she wasn’t planning to move in with any time soon.

There is also humor that many viewers will relate to, for example, at one point the séance is interrupted by a delivery at her door, and director Savage uses Zoom‘s functionality in clever ways, including the countdown to the end of a free 40-minute meeting, and the inventive use of a virtual background in the form of Caroline wandering around her bedroom looping continuously.

The special effects are equally well executed, and another reason why this film is hard to dislike. And yes, it does over rely on some jump scares. It takes the scariest elements of genre favorites and delivers a shock every few minutes. From sudden unexplained noises, ghostly figures glimpsed in the darkness, ill-advised trips into the attic, and people pulled across rooms by unseen forces, it’s all there. Most importantly, they are very cleverly executed, and at times just plain impressive.

Sure, the film can’t escape all of the problems posed by its low budget and restricted production, in the sense, there are a few scenes that are too blurry to actually see what’s happening. And of course, like most films of the genre, the characters don’t get enough time to flesh out their arcs. However, with such an excellent presentation such faults certainly feel forgivable.

A major part of the success belongs to the immensely likeable cast as Haley Bishop, Radina Drandova, Jemma Moore, Caroline Ward, Emma Louise Webb, Edward Linard and Seylan Baxter are all very natural in their roles. On the whole, ‘Host’ is a highly effective horror that uses plausible experience to a creepily chilling effect.

Directed – Rob Savage

Starring – Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb

Rated – NR

Run Time – 56 minutes

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