The strength of the horror genre has always been the fact that a little can go a long way. While the genre has elevated itself quite a bit, through the years studios like Blumhouse have found their bread and butter in the execution of high concept horror, a form of cinema the industry continues to come to terms with. Few gifted directors choose to engage the genre, avoiding the labels and career pitfalls that come with a “horror director”.
Rob Savage and his friends got together to make a movie that takes place on a Zoom call when everyone was sick of Zoom calls. It’s been making rounds as a “quarantine movie”, but that’s simply not the case. While it uses the time and our familiarity with everything the situation has brought us, Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley, and Jed Shepherd’s script always assures it’s simply a backdrop to the story about to unfold.
A group of friends come together over Zoom for their weekly check-in, and the activity of the night? A seance. What could possibly go wrong?
The film walks familiar territory, but it never feels old. With a lean 50 minute running time Host doesn’t waste anytime building off our preconceived notions of horror to heighten the terror in an insidious fashion. The film bypasses the usual jump scares at first to unsettle its audience through mise en scene, demanding your attention as each individual Zoom window opens up its own world of terror.
From there the scares open up to ingenuity. There are a handful of setups in the film that are as inventive as they are terrifying. Head scratching VFX work plays with the practical world to bring a lot of these scares to life, constantly raising the bar on an unassuming film. Every portion of the Zoom call is juiced for horror potential, and the results are so effective you can’t help but laugh after you realize what just happened.
Host shows its holes when it comes to its story. The film is a setup, but it’s hard to argue that it’s anything more. You can simply sum up the final two acts of this film as “terror ensues” and you wouldn’t be missing a beat, but did it need to do more than this? In 50 minutes Host manages to be more effective than most horror films double its running time. It achieves this by knowing exactly what it is and executing it to the highest level.
Host isn’t elevated horror, and it doesn’t want to be. It’s the special kind of film that knows where it stands and is simply excited to be here; the type that comes undone by ego and ambition far too often.
Host is available on SHUDDER.