Review by Ally Russell
What happens if your virtual meeting room is haunted?
Host is a new Shudder original horror film about six friends who decide to hold a virtual séance using the popular video communication platform Zoom. As the group’s evening of entertainment quickly unravels into a night of terror, viewers are immersed in a found footage-style horror movie that shows the worst-case scenario when technology and the supernatural converge on a computer screen.
Filmed in the homes of the actors and directed from afar, Host was conceived of by director Rob Savage (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), who collaborated with his producing-partner Jed Shepherd (Salt, award-winning short, 2018), producer Douglas Cox (Dawn of the Deaf, 2016), and writer Gem Hurley (Tin Foil) to craft the story and script. In his director’s statement, Savage credited his enthusiasm for found footage horror movies, specifically Unfriended (2014), for inspiring Host, but it was Savage’s recent Zoom prank that propelled the idea of the film that’s now streaming on Shudder.
Host is haunting, and it doesn’t waste time telling its scary story. There is no trivial dialogue or banter to introduce the characters. There is no music to lull you into the story. There are no intro credits because, after all, you’re just watching a free 40-minute Zoom session. Savage quickly familiarizes viewers with the group’s relationship dynamics and drama, and he grasps our short attention spans with speedy pacing and plenty of obligatory jump scares…and he does it in less than an hour.
The friends, played by Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louis Webb, Caroline Ward, Radina Drandova, and Edward Linard, have outstanding chemistry, which bolsters the film’s authenticity. For viewers, the experience is a bit uncanny because it feels like you’re zoom-bombing a private moment between friends. Savage attributes the harmony of the cast to their long standing friendships beyond the “set” of the film.
In addition to acting, it is worth noting that the actors operated their own cameras and assisted with their own lighting and practical effects. While all of the actors were stellar in their own roles, we must give Emma Louis Webb a special round of applause, because her genuine fear and panic are palpable on screen, and she does a lot of the emotional lifting toward the end of the film.
Host is an outstanding horror film because it doesn’t allow us to escape the terror of our current reality. This film is set in the present amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and every facet of the film—from the plot to the production—reminds us of that alarming fact. Why are these friends having a Zoom call instead of meeting up at someone’s house or a pub? Because they and we are in the middle of a pandemic. Why are they risking their spiritual and physically safety by holding a séance via Zoom even though, as their spiritual guide warns, the group will be “slightly less protected than they might have been”? Because of the pandemic. Why can’t they leave their homes to escape their frightening situations? Because pandemic. When two of the characters do come face-to-face, they greet each other by bumping elbows. Pandemic, pandemic, pandemic.
It’s difficult to go into detail about the plot without spoiling the fun of the film. So, for a fully immersive—and potentially haunting—experience, grab your laptop and just press play!
Host is best described as a fraught fifty-seven-minute thrill ride with Paranormal Activity (2007) meets Unfriended: Dark Web (2018) vibes.
Ally Russell occasionally creates content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, SCARY OUT THERE, and she hosts the FlashFrights podcast on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally lives in Boston and works at an independent children’s publisher. She enjoys talking about cryptids in her free time. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.