How the heck did they pull this off? How can a horror movie that not only was shot entirely over Zoom, but didn’t even exist as a concept a little over three months ago, be as satisfying as Host?
The new Shudder original, which follows six friends who hold a seance over Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic and somehow came together from beginning to end starting in April of this very year, is quite impressive and a total blast. In fact, it might just leave you itching for more Zoom horror.
From a production standpoint first and foremost, it’s downright wild how much director Rob Savage and his crew was able to accomplish here while working entirely from their own individual houses. One might assume the film would be forced to take an extremely minimalist approach given the major limitations, having a lot of the horror playing out in our minds. But no, Host is a made-from-home movie that truly delivers the goods, not coming across like much of a step down from a Blumhouse film that wasn’t produced in the middle of a damn global pandemic. For that alone, Host deserves massive props.
It is, of course, a concept we’ve seen plenty of times before, including most effectively in Unfriended, which I still maintain is far more clever than it’s given credit for. Host at times is essentially an extremely skillful execution of well-worn tropes from other found footage movies, rather than something that boggles our mind with its ingenuity. We get the camera flash used strategically to light up a room and build suspense between shots, an eerie pan around an attic, flour being spread out on the floor to reveal footsteps, and so on.
But there are a couple of rather inventive scares in there, including at least two reliant on technology that had me giggling with delight. I sure can’t say I expected Zoom backgrounds to be as well utilized in a horror movie this soon, and when everyone was making the same jokes about video chat filters back in March, who would have expected a director would give us nightmares over them by July?
What really helps elevate Host for me, though, is the dynamic between the characters, who all feel like genuine friends and, unlike in something like Unfriended, are people we actually enjoy spending time with. Not only is this situation immersive from a technological standpoint thanks to really being shot on Zoom, but at no time do I not buy that this is a real group of friends connecting with one another during quarantine, and small touches like their drinking game over how many times the psychic will say the phrase “astral plane” help a lot in that regard.
If Host doesn’t quite rise to the level of a new genre classic, I’d blame that on two factors. One, nearly every single found footage movie requires some suspension of disbelief as to why the characters are filming everything that’s happening to them, but it’s especially a problem here. Are we supposed to understand that these people are talking on Zoom via their laptops? If so, who the heck walks around their house physically holding a computer with the screen pointed toward the strange sound they’re hearing? Even if they’re supposed to be on their phones, as one character appears to be based on the use of a selfie cam, the “why are they still holding the camera?” factor is a consistent problem — especially when at one point, a character tries to flee their home … but only after remembering to pick up the computer/phone to bring it with them.
And two, for what appears to be the first movie to actually incorporate the coronavirus pandemic into its plot, part of me wishes the film took it just a step further thematically. It does so a little bit, including with a reference to the characters being more vulnerable because they can’t be in the same room. But it just doesn’t quite do something much greater with that idea. Maybe tapping more into the characters’ growing loneliness during the pandemic would make it feel like it has something powerful and memorable to say about this time we’re living in, but while there are plenty of lockdown references, the core meat of Host could basically take place last year unchanged. Rarely do I wish for films to be longer, but given this one doesn’t even break an hour, I wouldn’t have minded another 15 or 20 minutes to flesh these ideas out and make it feel more like the definitive lockdown horror movie.
All in all, though, Host is quite an easy recommendation, and we can only be so lucky as to have every future movie that emerges from lockdown be as much of a success as this one. Let’s hope the quarantine horror genre hasn’t already peaked.