Host – Horror Review
Six friends hire a medium to hold a seance via Zoom during lockdown, but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong.
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Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are reviewing Shudder Original Screenlife horror movie Host from 2020. Directed by Rob Savage. This British made computer screen horror was filmed during the Covid lockdown of 2020. Taking cues from movies like Unfriended and The Collingswood Story. Host takes place entirely over a Zoom webchat.
Savage conceived the film when he made a short movie designed to scare his friends. The video went viral. Leading Savage to turn the concept into a feature film. Inspired by movies like The Blair Witch Project and the fantastic Lake Mungo. Rob directed actors remotely through zoom. Almost live scripting them as they set up their scenes. Performed their own stunts and retro scripted. It’s fascinating stuff.
Coming during a time when the majority of people were stuck indoors. Unable to work, see friends or even take a leisurely trip to the shops. Host offered a momentary 57 minutes of respite from the problems outside the front door. Well received back then. It would be fair to wonder whether some of that reception was due to the situation at the time. Were people feeling generous? Was Host the beneficiary of hyperbole and exaggeration from critics desperate for content? That is something we will find out in our review. Let’s take a look.
Host – Lockdown Based Screenlife Horror
Host follows the story of a group of friends chatting on Zoom. Taking place during the British Lockdown of 2020. The friends have decided to take part in an online séance. They chat for a little among themselves before being joined by a medium called Seylan. Seylan instructs them to follow her instructions. She wants them to visualise someone they wish to talk to. When one of the girls, Jemma, suddenly claims to receive a message from a dead friend. Things start to take a drastic turn for the worse.
If you have watched similar movies like Unfriended. Host will seem incredibly familiar to you. While it deserves lauding for its innovation during a difficult time. The video chat horror movie isn’t a new concept. It dates back to, at least, the early 2000s with the aforementioned Collingswood Story. Still, as I always say with Screenlife horror, it is a fairly fresh feeling genre. Presenting itself as a rather interesting take on Found Footage. The genre relies heavily on character interactions and creative scares.
Host – Not For Everyone
It does bear mention, however, that this genre isn’t for everyone. Found footage already has its share of detractors. When combining that with the even cheaper feeling screenlife elements. You are going to turn off a huge section of your audience straight away. There are plenty of people that simply hate this format. It doesn’t matter how effective the scares are or how engaging the story is. Sub-par screenlife horror movies like don’t do the genre any favours. We recently reviewed the brand new Ghost Webcam. A Screenlife movie that is very guilty of being sub-par.
To dismiss Host for these reasons would be doing yourself a disservice. This is an excellent horror movie that is both effective and compelling. Clocking in at only 57 minutes. This might be one of the most tightly paced horror movies in recent years. Starting off with some basic establishing of characters. We are offered a keen sense of the different personalities present on the call. This is an interesting group of women with unique traits. Unlike Unfriended, there is a distinct feeling of camaraderie between these people. They seem to get along and to actually know each other. Something that feels more and more important as the movie goes on.
Host – Authentic Character Interactions
Character interactions are authentic and feel genuine. Host actually manages to make you feel as though you are watching friends interact. Perfectly capturing the awkwardness and slightly cheesy nature of video chats. Hayley has arranged for a friend to conduct a séance. The rest of the group are somewhat sceptical. Some are dismissive and attack the subject with humour and arrogance. Others are nervous and approach the situation with trepidation.
It is the dismissive nature of one of the friends that provokes the spirits. Inviting something terrifying into our world. At its core, this is an old fashioned horror story. Exchanging friends sitting around a Ouija board for friends chatting on Zoom. Host manages that all too rare task of feeling both traditional and rather modern. When things start to go wrong. The varying reactions of the group help to push the story along. Its basic stuff but works extremely effectively.
A “boy who cried wolf” situation takes place early in the movie. Leading members of the group to be somewhat untrusting when things go wrong. As things go from bad to worse, however, it becomes abundantly clear that all is not right. The reactions of the characters feel very fitting. The actors clearly buy into the events taking place. This, in turn, helps the viewer to buy into them too. That’s not to say that Host is tremendously scary. Some of the press surrounding it declared it one of the scariest movies in years. That’s, obviously, not accurate but it is effective. Managing to utilise what limited tools were available to the creators smartly. Making a lot from a little.
Host – Effective Horror Moments
The majority of the horror moments here are of the jump scare variety. Using tried and tested tropes seen in movies like Paranormal Activity and the like. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before but it is done particularly well. You will find yourself asking the typical horror movie questions. “Why are you all sitting in the dark?”. “Why the hell are you going up into the attic?”. “Do you really need to examine every little sound?”. And so on and so forth. But the pay off makes these overly familiar elements easy to forgive. You might see certain things coming. But you will still be surprised when they get there.
The nature of the Zoom call actually ends up being a big plus for the horror element. Savage rarely places the focus on to a single character. Instead opting to indulge the viewer in several screens at once. Forcing you to keep track of several points of focus. Knocking sounds hail from ambiguous sources. You are never quite sure of which character is experiencing which events. This keeps you continuously off base. Leading you to obsessively background watch each scene. This is something that movies like Unfriended really fail to utilise. Instead making the woefully unsuspecting, impending, victim abundantly clear to the viewer. Robbing the movie of suspense.
Modern technology is utilised in ways that have become familiar in recent years. Face filters floating in the middle of the shot. Selfie sticks used to elevate the viewer into dark spaces. Unreliable internet connections used to create confusion. Nothing is particularly overdone, though. The creative use of said elements keeps things fresh. Never really focusing on one thing for too long. Or going back to the well too many times. It’s effective stuff and the entire crew gets the most out of their limited tools.
Host – Fantastic Performances
Performances in Host absolutely bear mention. Everyone is utterly fantastic. Tasked with setting up their own scenes, including camera work and lighting. The cast here deserves plenty of praise for the work they put in. Each character manages to establish a setting that feels unique to them. Keeping the picture fresh and offering different opportunities for scares. Each character basically plays themself in as much as they use their own names. Hayley Bishop has some decent moments of drama. Having something of a quick temper and an intolerance for the other girl’s mockery. She is quick to share her frustrations with the group. Leading to some tense moments.
Jemma Moore is a laugh riot. Acting as the class clown of the group. She has some genuinely funny moments that add some levity to the movie. She cracked me up at a number of points. Emma Webb has some strong moments of dramatic acting. Playing a role rather reminiscent of Heather in The Blair Witch Project. She does a great job of reflecting the gravity of the situation towards the end.
The performance that, I thought, stood out the most was that of Caroline Ward. It’s an understated performance as her character is rather quiet compared to the other girls. But she feels like the most genuine of the entire group. Her utter fear and panic at the events taking place stands out for just how real it is. She does an amazing job. Making it incredibly easy to buy into the horror and dread her character is feeling. The subtleties of her performance are what makes it. She bites her fingers and sobs neurotically. Almost pleading for relief from what is happening. I loved it. All of these women are fantastic, though. It’s a great job all around.
Host – Not a Perfect Movie
While lavishing praise on the movie is all well and good. There are going to be some people who don’t agree. There are things that deserve criticism here but context is important. Though Host feels fresh and innovative. This has all been done before. Nothing is particularly new and there isn’t much in the way of surprises. The hype surrounding Host may lead some people to expect too much. This is a movie that has been heavily praised. Many reviewers have engaged in significant hyperbole regarding it. Claiming it is the scariest movie in years is ridiculous. Exaggeration, when it comes to horror, is never a good idea. You will simply set people up for disappointment.
The screenlife presentation of Host simply will not appeal to some. Found footage has its fans. It is also a major turn off for many. Screenlife suffers from the same problems. Staring at a group of people chatting on webcams. Isn’t exactly the most invigorating thing in the world. It does, however, fit the story well. Especially when you consider the setting.
Some may find the group’s interactions to be annoying. Much like Unfriended. I can’t imagine too many people’s idea of fun is spending time with a bunch of annoying students. The addition of Teddy, as well, feels like a misstep. He doesn’t bring much to the film. I don’t think the movie was crying out for a “wide boy” personality.
Host – A Remarkable Achievement
Still, these are complaints that could be levied on any horror movie. As I said before, at its core, this is a traditional horror movie. If it wasn’t a group of friends conducting a séance on Zoom. It would be a group of friends sitting around a Ouija board. What Host managed to achieve at a time when most of us were sat watching TV and gaining weight. Is rather remarkable. To have taken a moment where the entire world stopped. And used it as an opportunity to innovate and bring people together in horror. Is something that shouldn’t be dismissed easily.
Host is a remarkable achievement given the context. How did you spend lockdown? Did you pick up a new hobby? Did you manage to knock out some DIY? Or did you simply write it off as a lost period in your life? Something that you will think about for the next 20 years. Look back on and lament the things you sacrificed.
I spent lockdown appreciating my living situation. Grateful to be with someone that I am in love with who also happens to be my best friend. Playing video games, doing major maintenance on my cars and trying to manage my bipolar. I thought I did pretty good, all things considered. Rob Savage and the crew here spent it making one of the most noteworthy horror movies in years. When you consider everything that was going on at the time. And just how much this movie resonated with people. Host is a wicked achievement and deserves tons of praise.
Is it a Knockout?
Host is an incredibly effective Screenlife horror movie. Set during the Covid Lockdown of 2020. The film follows a group of friends conducting a seance over Zoom. Featuring authentic and believable interactions. A group of people that actually feel like legitimate friends. And a fantastic, short, runtime that keeps everything tight. Host punches well above its weight. Feeling like a meeting between the old and the new. Host's modern, Zoom based, presentation hides a traditional horror story. Something that would have worked just as well 30 years ago.
Excellent performances keep the movie strolling along. All while traditional horror tropes play out to keep you on edge. It is excellent stuff that only slips up in a couple of places. Highly recommended if you enjoy found footage, Screenlife horror or traditional horror stories. If you don't like the medium or dislike the presentation, Host won't change your mind. If you are looking for something different. Something that was a remarkable achievement in a time of turmoil. Look no further, Host is fantastic fun. One of the best British horror movies in years.
|Release Date:||30th July 2020|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Mystery|
|Movie Length:||57 Min|
|Starring:||Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Edward Linard, Seylan Baxter, Jinny Lofthouse, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward|
|Directed By:||Rob Savage|
|Written By:||Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd|
|Produced By:||Douglas Cox, Craig Engler, Emily Gotto, Samuel Zimmerman|
|Parental Guidance:||Language, some gore, some violence|