[Review] Shudder’s ‘Host’ Summons Effective Scares in Lockdown Tech Chiller

If ever there was a horror movie that exemplified then used the current pandemic lockdown situation to its full advantage, it’s this one. Early on in the lockdown stage, director Rob Savage went viral with a two-minute video on Twitter that featured a Zoom meeting interrupted by a scare straight out of [REC]. It caught the notice of Shudder’s general manager Craig Engler, who then reached out to Savage about turning the short into a full-length film. The result is roughly an hour of terror that plays like horror’s greatest hits.

Host tells of six friends in lockdown that enlist a medium to guide them through a séance over Zoom. Even the most novice horror fan would recognize this as the worst possible idea, and that’s well before technology enters the picture. Things go awry quickly. An evil spirit enters the fold, threatening their very lives.

Social distancing means that Zoom has become a very prominent tool not just for work purposes, but for maintaining sanity through virtual hangouts with friends. It’s a clever concept that speaks directly to our present. Yet, that presents challenges for the cast and crew of this niche film. Savage had to direct his actors – Haley Bishop (Deep State), Radina Drandova (Dawn of the Deaf), Edward Linard (The Rebels), Jemma Moore (Doom: Annihilation), Caroline Ward (Stalling It) and Emma Louise Webb (The Crown) – remotely. It also meant the actors operated their own cameras, handled their lighting, and helped pull off the practical effects involved.

The story itself is simple, and without frills. A séance opens the floodgates of nightmarish torment for these friends, and that’s all there is to the plot. Clocking in at just under an hour, there’s not much room for a lot of exposition, and this type of scare-heavy movie doesn’t need it anyway. Savage wastes little time getting straight to the atmosphere and spooky stuff. With basic introductions out of the way as this group gathers and their hired mystic Seylan (Seylan Baxter) lays out the rules, the first half-hour or so is a steady ramp-up of tension.

Working within the limitations of a Zoom chat, Savage cleverly stages his actors with their backs facing the wide-open space of their respective rooms. That nearly all of these rooms feature open doors and hallways at the opposite end instantly leaves the viewer on edge, consistently scanning the screen for tell-tale signs of paranormal activity. It starts slowly then, once the familiar viral scare gets woven into this expanded version, the scares come at a frenzied, relentless pace.

From there, the familiarity kicks into overdrive, and the tension dissipates a little. As impressive as the stunts and practical effects are, especially for a film that came together so quickly, much of it will be recognizable to seasoned horror fans. It’s as though Savage pays homage to his favorite spooky moments from the genre. Add a dash of Paranormal Activity, and memorable scare scenes from a few other notable haunters, and you have a love letter to jump scares. It’s a nifty movie that lands most of its scares, but don’t expect much depth or unpredictability beyond that.

It’s hard not to wonder how fast or well Host will age; technology-based horror always dates itself the quickest. The specificity of this film crafted around the lockdown makes it of the zeitgeist in a way few films manage to achieve. Still, for a brisk hour packed with chills, Host succeeds at what it sets out to do, which is to simply scare you in your own home.

Host arrives on Shudder on July 30, 2020.

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