As someone who is extremely into online horror and found footage storytelling techniques, Rob Savage’s Host (which premiered this week on Shudder) was totally and completely up my horror-loving alley. With its lean and mean 56-minute running time, Host wastes no time whatsoever unleashing pure terror on both its cast and viewers, and I was wholly riveted and rattled as all hell broke loose on the screen. Make no mistake, Host is the real deal, folks, and co-writer/director Rob Sheridan (along with his entire team of collaborators) have pulled off something very special with their tech-infused nightmare.
Host follows a group of young women –Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova and Caroline Ward (all playing characters that share their own names) – who come together via Zoom during lockdown to hold a séance with the assistance of a medium named Seylan (Seylan Baxter). Their friend Alan (Alan Emrys) also makes an appearance, but his overbearing girlfriend pulls him off the call before things really get going. The séance starts off innocently enough, with Seylan attempting to make a connection with those on the other side, but after one of the participants decides to not take the activity seriously, things take an eerie turn. Before they know it, the ladies all find themselves dealing with dark forces they cannot possibly begin to control, and their desperation to disconnect from the demonic influences proves itself to be impossible, leaving them all in great peril.
That all sounds like rather standard fare for demon-themed horror, right? No doubt. But it’s the way that Savage frames everything against the backdrop of the pandemic that highlights the tension and desperation these characters are feeling when they truly are unable to escape the evil entity that is terrorizing them, and that transforms Host into something very unique, very timely and very terrifying all the same. The authenticity that comes from utilizing Zoom as the framing for the screen also does a great job of immersing you right into the mix alongside these characters, which added another layer of anxiety to my own viewing experience. And as a film fan, that touch of authenticity goes a long way for me.
Something else that makes Host a stand out is the fact that, because of lockdown, all of the actors had to be far more hands-on than usual, which included some stunts, special effects work and they were responsible for the camera-work, too. Not that there wasn’t a talented crew behind their efforts – it’s quite the opposite, in fact – but the cast in Host had to step up during some rather unusual circumstances in ways never really seen before. I can’t help but admire that kind of tenacity and dedication from everyone involved who had to come together virtually for this project.
Without a doubt, Host is one of the most uniquely ambitious horror movies to come along this year, and it serves as an excellent reminder of the power of great genre storytelling. Selfishly, I would have easily watched another 15-20 minutes of Host, but the film never suffers from its efficient running time. It’s just that I was having so much fun being unnerved and yelling at certain characters that I was a little bummed when the ride was all over. That being said, if you’re a Shudder subscriber, I cannot recommend Host enough. It takes a lot to get under my skin these days, but Sheridan and company did a brilliant job of creeping me out in all the right way. Kudos to everyone involved.
Movie Score: 4/5