Well, that didn’t take long. Not even a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic and we have our first Zoom-centric horror movie. Yes, Shudder’s newest original movie – filmed during the 2020 lockdown – one up’s Unfriended by setting its story entirely in the latest in cloud-based conferencing technology. Host, a supernatural techno-horror, shares a lot in common with some of familiar found-footage horror movies. And it barely clocks in at an hour. But early consensus suggests this one may be a hidden gem. At the very least, Host may scare a few horror fans just by virtue of reminding them of some horrific meetings they’ve had on Zoom while quarantined.
Cooped up and bored in their apartments during the coronavirus pandemic, Hayley and her friends meet up on Zoom for a seance. It’s just fun and games for the girls. They even have a drinking game for the occasion – a shot for every time the medium mentions the ‘astral plane’. But when one of the girls, Jemma, calls out to a made-up spirit, she opens a door to the unknown. Now the medium has been cut off; the girls are left on their own, cut off from the outside world. And an unseen entity is stalking them.
Host is a 60-Minutes Roller-Coaster of Anticipation and Dread
No one is going to accuse Host of being original. Though it’s filmed with Zoom audiences will instantly think of Unfriended. The comparisons are inevitable as the format dictates that the Shudder original has to follow at least some of the same set-up’s. Moreover, as with any found-footage movie, Host occasionally stretches your suspension of disbelief as characters carry around laptops and keep filming when it no longer makes sense. But these are minor grievances. Director Rob Savage, who shares writing credits with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, gets it right where it counts. Host is a legitimately scary movie.
…Host is a case study in ratcheting up tension from zero to 10.
Early in its 60 minutes, Savage primes audiences to watch the corners of their screen closely with a few teases. Of course, there’s the expected banter found in most found-footage movies as we familiarize ourselves with the characters. From that point onward, however, Host is a case study in ratcheting up tension from zero to 10. Savage puts you on the edge of your seat and may even prompt some viewers to cover their eyes a few times. Similar to Unfriended, Host makes excellent use of its technology. With anywhere from one to five windows or panels open, it’s intermittent reinforcement at its best as you wonder when and where something will happen. Sharp editing helps nail a few excellent jump scares.
Host Embodies the DIY Spirit Of Indie Horror
Over its short runtime, Host manages to cram in quite a few familiar tricks. Whether it’s using a camera to light up a dark room or throwing flour on the floor to spot a demonic entity, Savage shows he’s a student of the game. In addition to Unfriended, Paranormal Activity clearly influenced this Shudder original. Still it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer DIY spirit of the movie. In many ways, Host captures the spirit of guerrilla horror-filmmaking. Savage and company put this together using free software available to anyone. And yes, Host has a clever reminder dropped into the movie that Zoom does indeed have a free 40-minute limit option. Even the end credits give a wink to the audience. Just one question – what were the messages in the Chat bar?
Host May Not Be The Most Original Horror Movie, But It’s Damn Scary
Make no mistake about it, Host is a damn scary movie. Yes, Hurley, Savage, and Shepherd clearly mix elements from past horror movies. Paranormal Activity and Unfriended are the most obvious comparisons. And who cares? For 60 minutes, Host will have you staring intensely into the corner of your screens, waiting for something to jump out. This is pure DIY, innovation made all the more impressive by the fact that it was done on the fly during a pandemic. In a year where we’ve had some of the most anticipated horror movies bumped to later dates, Host is a pleasant surprise. If there’s a sequel, maybe Savage et al will call it, Host 2 – Trapped in the Breakout Rooms.