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Review: Unique horror chiller 'Host' proves pandemic art can exist

Courtesy of Shudder


Learning to adapt in our current pandemic infused climate is something we’ve all had to do, and considering COVID-19 has upended every aspect of Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before studios committed to the premise. Enter Shudder’s new original film “Host” - a perfect and unique chiller for 2020, one entirely shot over the Zoom conference app, and pieced together in quarantine. The actors set up their own homes, and the filmmakers never once met the performers.

It won’t be the last movie to utilize such a tactic, especially as things won’t return to normal until a vaccine is developed, but it proves that you can create art in the middle of a pandemic, and show the possibilities of how far this genre can go. Of course, anyone that’s seen “Unfriended” will argue the web-cam thriller has already been done, though, “Host” is a unique experiment and falls into a category all its own. This could be the first film shot and edited remotely with no in person interaction.

Writer/director Rob Savage and co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd do set up a basic framework that works for this quick jolt of horror (the movie clocks in at the hour mark). We’ve all been in a Zoom chat and logged on with our friends to play games, host movies, or connect with family members, but “Host” offers that scenario with a twist.

Six young friends: Haley (Haley Bishop), Radina (Radina Drandova). Teddy (Edward Linard), Jemma (Jemma Moore), Caroline (Caroline Ward), and Emma (Emma Louise-Webb) have all logged onto Zoom to talk about the precarious situation they’ve found themselves in, except Emma has invited a special guest: a middle aged clairvoyant named Seylan (Seylan Baxter) who has signed on to help the squad with a virtual seance.

It seems harmless enough, with the wine flowing and the laughter spewing until, predictably, things start to go array and Jemma accidentally invites a demonic entity into the group’s lives. Now, one by one, they each start enduring strange paranormal activity.

You would think “Host” would be restricted by its setting, but I was amazed at how quick the pacing was and how each actor effectively staged their home to look like a horror set. Aside from the occasional VFX shot that was added in post-production, a majority of “Host” relies on practical effects and the adaptability of the cast who have to react to their surroundings and keep the action moving.

As a horror movie, “Host” is the obvious example of what can be accomplished during the pandemic, because I’m not sure a romantic comedy or action thriller can succeed on the same level. The film works like a montage of found-footage hits, and uses elements of “The Blair Witch Project” with the aforementioned “Unfriended” to deliver scares every few minutes. Plus, it has the added element of reliability: we’ve all used Zoom during our quarantine, and that’s literally what’s used in the film. This could be anybody, and that’s what makes “Host” both intriguing and terrifying.

And at 56 minutes, “Host” doesn’t have the luxury to stop moving either, but it probably won’t age well in terms of technology and the moment we’re currently living. In ten years what will revisiting this feel like? Yet for the moment it works wonders and the creative brass at Shudder deserve credit for seeing the writing on the wall and delivering another decent pulse-pounding exercise in terror.

Grade: B+

HOST is now streaming on SHUDDER


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