Director: Rob Savage
Writers: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage and Jed Shepherd
Cast: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward
Editor: Brenna Rangott
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Given the recent uptick in films that play out entirely across screens, it was only a matter of time before the global quarantine — and resulting reliance on video-conferencing apps — had filmmakers reaching for their screen record button once again. However, unlike the sleek thrillers Searching (2018) and C U Soon (2020), in which crime-solving plots became a showcase for the boundless wonders of technology, Host is a sharp look at its limitations. Even its title, flitting between verb and noun, is a clever play on words — six friends gather to host an online seance, only to become hosts to a demonic possessor. Is technology the devil? Anyone who’s spent the past year attending Zoom meetings on a low-bandwidth internet connection would be hard-pressed to disagree.
Across a brisk 56 minutes, Host combines three well-worn subgenres — found-footage, pandemic and possession — into a concoction that’s surprisingly fresh. While the paranormal activities make for moments of genuine scariness, the film also takes a moment to acknowledge current anxieties. A momentary cough assumes the significance of a loaded gun, natural for a post-Covid world. Jokes about parents who won’t stay indoors betray underlying worries about their mortality. Director Rob Savage avoids the fatigue of Covid baggage by handling these conversations with a light touch and framing them as banter between friends. This is a film that’s content to simply observe the impact of life in lockdown, rather than make a grand statement about it.
The supernatural horrors begin when Haley (Haley Bishop) and her friends inadvertently summon a demon during a Zoom seance (who among us hasn’t?). It’s a common enough trope made watchable by the group’s compelling performances as fear-stricken young adults. The film’s early portions flit repeatedly between their Zoom windows, an effective time lapse of their progression from bemusement to slow-dawning realization to terror. With no background score, every creak, thud and scrape is amplified and Savage deploys them to great effect.
Technology is more foe than friend in Host. The internet cuts out at a crucial moment, an innocuous Zoom background pulls a cruel bait-and-switch and a face filter is the basis of a heart-stopping jumpscare. A cheeky Zoom pop-up that asks, ‘Running out of time?’ appears only to mock the terrorized group. Despite being connected over video call, each friend is painfully alone in their own home, fighting an unseen force that’s everywhere at once. It’s no accident that the one gadget that helps them get a clearer picture of the evil presence is an analog Polaroid camera. Is Savage commenting on how even modern technology can’t stave off crippling worries? He couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.