ZOOM WITH A SKEW
Review: RJ Bland
Horror has always been the genre that has embraced technology more than any other. From the shaky handicam of The Blair Witch Project (which kicked off a splurge of found footage films) to Unsane (shot entirely on an iphone) to Unfriended (a film that plays out entirely on a computer desktop), horror has had the ingenuity and bravery to try and incorporate the changing sands of technology and our relationship with it. Smash hit series Black Mirror is perhaps the best proponent of this. It plays out a worst case scenario situation, a nightmarish vision of where certain aspects of technology may lead and the results are quite often chillingly plausible. What seemed like science fiction a few years back now doesn't seem quite so far fetched. Global pandemics probably fall into that category too. This time last year the idea that most of us would be locked up for most of the day, socially distancing and wearing face masks would have felt terribly apocalyptic – and somewhat unbelievable. But here we are. It has changed the way people live and how they interact with their fellow man (and woman). Being closed off from human contact completely isn't much fun, even for the most anti-social of us and platforms like Skype and Zoom have stepped in to fill the void. The amount of people video-calling friends and family has increased drastically – so it's only right that we have a horror film that suddenly makes that all feel a bit more threatening. Enter Rob Savage's Host.
Now whilst most of us have just been using video-calling platforms to have a chin-wag with family or have meetings with co-workers, there are others who aren't content just sitting around having a good natter. No, some people want to spice things up a little. One of the ways to do that is to hold a group séance, which is exactly what the gang of friends in Host do to wile away their evening. They have roped in the help of an experienced medium to help them, so it's all safe...right? Well, as it turns out, not really. Not everyone takes the séance seriously, despite the medium's warnings to not disrespect anyone or anything on the astral plane – and the results are suitably sinister.
Sometimes a film comes along that perfectly captures the spirit of the times. The cultural zeitgeist. Host is one of those films. Some may say that it means that it will age badly as its themes and format are very particular to a specific time and will lose any real sense of power and relevance quite quickly. Any film that uses a form of tech as a hook always runs that risk but Host feels more like a tightly wound time capsule that will be appreciated for years to come rather than something with a very short shelf life.
The main reason that the film will stand the test of time is because...well, it's really quite scary. Found footage movies were initially so successful because they allowed more people to achieve a new level of suspension of disbelief. Big budget studio horrors are great and all but the slickness and production values do make them feel a bit too polished at times. Watching mildly pixelated footage from laptop cameras/mobile phones feels about as real as it gets right now and it makes the horror all the more unsettling.
It's worth mentioning that the film is only 56 minutes long, which makes it somewhere between a short and a feature length. Whilst we're not big proponents of reducing the traditional length of feature films, the shortened duration actually works very well here. Sure, we could have had another ten minutes of Act 1 filler and some more build up in the middle somewhere but the fact is that Host wastes little time getting into it's groove. The opening ten minutes give us the usual introductions but we're not made to suffer extended dialogue sequences that sometimes feel they've been added to press home the fact this is all supposed to be 'real'. As soon as the medium joins the chat, we move straight into the scary stuff. Savage spends a few minutes carefully upping the ante and raising the tension levels and after that it's effectively a bit of a roller coaster ride. Some may claim that it's too reliant on jump scares but when they're this well done, who cares? There are some genuinely creepy moments in here too – where you sense something is really wrong and hope to be proved wrong...but aren't. I mean, since when is holding a selfie stick up in the loft ever a good idea when you think you've heard a noise up there? No good can come from that!
It's worth noting too that the characters here, most importantly, feel like real people. In a 56 minute film you don't really have time to flesh them out very much or really even make them 'likeable' but what you must do to make us care about their fate is make them seem like real three dimensional people. And Host deserves credit for that – as do the cast, who all acquit themselves rather well.
The negatives? There aren't many. Does it feel like a mash up of Unfriended and Paranormal Activity? Yes. There is no doubt that some of the stuff on offer is a little derivative. Those who haven't been using video calling software may not connect with the format either. The bottom line however is that Host still feels fresh, relevant and vitally, it's bloody good fun.