Host (2020) Review

Host (2020)
  • Directing7
  • Writing7
  • Acting7

Rob Savage's Host is a timely COVID-19 quarantine thriller that blends together both technology and time to make for an effective horror film that's full of jump-scares and impressive technical feats as it tells its entire story in under an hour.

Director Rob Savage and writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd have created the perfect thriller to watch while locked up during the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic with Host, a film shot entirely over a Zoom call meeting and in less than 60 minutes. Host is an effective blend of both technology and time as it uses both to its advantage to make for a horror film that’s frightening, fresh and highly original.

Host follows a group of friends: Haley, Jemma, Emma, Radina, Caroline and Teddy as they attempt to make contact with spirits from the afterlife while group chatting via a Zoom conference call. While the initial idea of the call came off as a joke, the group quickly realizes the consequences of trying to make contact with the dead without caution as strange things start to happen, shaking each one of them to the core as they attempt to survive what could be their most deadly Zoom call ever.

I know, the concept of Host sounds completely silly and exactly like the type of schlocky horror to capitalize on the Zoom craze that has hit ever since the world has gone into quarantine due to COVID-19. And initially, I was rolling my eyes as the film started and the Zoom call initiated.

But Host quickly impresses as it accurately uses the communication technology to tell a familiar story, only this time with a new piece of technology and a time limit of under 60 minutes. For those of you that don’t know what Zoom is, let me give you a very brief and probably not the greatest summary. Zoom is essentially a group chat application that plays out similarly to Facebook Messenger or Skype, only that the free call is limited to 60 minutes. This group messenger application allows for video, audio and text messages between all parties.

Director Rob Savage wastes no time as he dives into Host with the character of Haley, briefly giving you an overview of her place (which smartly hints at what is to come) and then quickly introducing the rest of the cast, establishing that these are all close friends attempting to have a little “fun” while quarantining.

Nobody really takes the idea of chatting with someone or something dead very seriously, with Haley reminding everyone that the person helping them make this connection is a close friend and to be respected. As the group dives deeper, the film starts to heat up and become a true piece of modern day horror, full of screams, shaky/blurry screens and jump-scares galore.

Host isn’t unlike Paranormal Activity or even Unfriended (and its highly under-rated and much better sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web) in its approach to a fairly simple story through the eyes of new technology, but that’s kind of what makes it so fresh and exciting, despite feeling much like these other movies.

The idea of a Zoom call is “new” and obviously the world in quarantine during the COVID-19 outbreak makes for an interesting, albeit minor change of pace.

Savage keeps the film moving, shuffling between characters frequently as the activity heats up and the scares start to roll in. One thing that I applaud Host for is sticking to its guns and mostly showing you what is actually happening. So many of these “shot on a screen” films suffer from too many moments of shaky camera and loud noises, only to cut to a bloody face or still screen. Host definitely has these moments, but it also has moments of pure dread as a character is slowly walking down a hallway and then opening the door, actually revealing what they are seeing.

Sometimes these moments pay off and sometimes they are false promises, but you really can’t seem to figure out when something is going to pop out or in what fashion.

There’s a lot of technical creativity going on throughout Host, aside from the Zoom call perspective. The effects appear to be practical and if they aren’t then I must again applaud Savage and his team for capturing so many cool moments without ever distracting from the fact that this film is supposed to be “real”.

The biggest trick of all “found footage” or “on a screen” movies is abiding by your own rules and Host adheres to this almost flawlessly. I’m sure if I rewatched the film I could comb through and find a few moments that require a suspension of disbelief, but on the first pass I can firmly say that Host mostly makes sense from that perspective and I rarely thought to myself, “why are you doing this” or “why are you filming this”.

The ending is probably the film’s weakest adherence to this concept, but the ending itself works so well and I can’t imagine they’d be able to achieve it without playing things up ever so slightly.

As it stands, Host is a lean and mean slice of modern day horror, mixing together the real-world fear of self-quarantine and killer viruses with a dash of the demonic and the technology that we have at our disposal, wrapped in a horror blanket that makes way for some impressive scares and truly terrifying moments. The fact that all of this is accomplished in less than one hour makes Host an actual success, as it races against the clock without ever feeling lazy or forced.

As of writing this, Host can be found exclusively on Shudder, which is a $5.99 a month subscription that comes with a free one-week trial. I activated a trial to view this, making this a “free” watch that I would suggest you do the same.

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