Monday, August 31, 2020

Movie Review: Host

Host *** / *****
Directed by: Rob Savage.
Written by: Gemma Hurley and Rob Savage and Jed Shepherd.
Starring: Haley Bishop (Haley), Jemma Moore (Jemma), Emma Louise Webb (Emma), Radina Drandova (Radina), Caroline Ward (Caroline), Alan Emrys (Alan), Edward Linard (Teddy), Jinny Lofthouse (Jinny), Seylan Baxter (Seylan).

You can tell that Host, a Shudder exclusive horror film, was written and made in haste – to try and capitalize on our current state of quarantine and the fears it brings up. The film runs a little less than an hour, and is basically a haunted Zoom call – where six friends, and a flaky medium, get together to try and connect with the “astral plane”. It’s clear that everyone involved wanted to get the film out in a hurry – not just before the Covid-19 lockdowns end, but also before the inevitable wave of films like this crash over us. It isn’t a particularly good film – but it is effective for its limited budget and ambition. You kind of wish that perhaps there would be a way to connect the evil lurking in this Zoom call to our current situation – but that would have required some fancier writing than we have here. As far as horror films that take place on computer screens over chats, the film doesn’t come close to even Unfriend: The Dark Net – let alone the far superior original, Unfriended, which is the gold standard for this sort of thing. Then again, the people who made that film weren’t under the gun like Savage and company were.

The premise is simple – Haley (Haley Bishop) has set up a Zoom call with her friends, and a psychic, so they can all have a socially distanced séance. No one in the group really believes that it will be possible – they likely wouldn’t believe it even if they were together in person – but hey, it’s something to do, rather than talk about how scared they of the pandemic, how lonely they are in isolation, or the troubles in their romantic relationships, etc. Of course, in the grand tradition of horror movie characters who don’t believe in ghosts, spirits or séances, they actually do make contact – and it’s not with a friendly spirit.

You know where this is going when the film begins, and it gets there all right. Unlike say, Unfriended – or a lot of horror movies – the victims here don’t really do anything to deserve their ultimate fates. Yes, they kind of mock the psychic at the beginning – but not that harshly. Perhaps that is deliberate – the nod to the pandemic, that doesn’t discriminate, but comes after you no matter what. But it’s hard to feel too much for these characters either – they are basically cookie cutters – and for the most part, I barely remembered who was who from one moment to the next. It doesn’t really matter – they are all lambs to the slaughter.

Host mainly works though on its own very limited terms. Yes, you get the sense that everything about it was rushed – but it certainly looks and feels like a real zoom call, the practical effects work about as good as can be expected, and even if there are a lot of cheap, jump scares – well, they work anyway. We are probably going to get countless films about this pandemic – horror films that try and tap into the fear we all felt, dramas about “the way we live now” and the “new normal” – etc. Most will almost definitely be insufferable. Host, for all its limitations, isn’t that. It’s lean, mean and effective.

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