REVIEW: Host (2020)

Release Poster – Shudder

Directed by Rob Savage — Screenplay by Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jed Shepherd.

Whether we would like it to happen or not, I am sure that over the next many years we will be treated to several films about, or simply set during, the Coronavirus Pandemic. It will be interesting to see what films treat that period of time appropriately and if any films about said period can stand the test of time. However, today I want to talk about the first fictional film that I have ever seen that directly mentions the Coronavirus pandemic, which is the Rob Savage-helmed techno-horror film Host.

Over the last few years, the found-footage genre has spun-off with a new subgenre that I quite enjoy. Computer screen films, or screencast films, take place entirely on a computer screen, smartphone, or the like. Often we see a character via a webcam and follow along as they talk to acquaintances or browse the internet. Films like Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended (and Stephen Susco’s sequel) as well as Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching are some of the best films in the subgenre. Rob Savage’s Host is the latest film in the popular subgenre, and it is a perfect fit for the moment it has been released in. How do you tell a horror movie story in the middle of a global pandemic that requires social distancing? Savage and the rest of the filmmakers made the wise decision to tell the story via a video-meeting on the video-chat service Zoom.

In Rob Savage’s Host, due to the aforementioned Coronavirus Pandemic, a group of friends has decided to hold a series of weekly Zoom calls to keep in touch and stay sane. Many of these friends have different experiences during the pandemic. Radina (played by Radina Drandova) lives with her new boyfriend, and they are finding out that perhaps their relationship isn’t strong enough to last. Caroline (played by Caroline Ward) lives with her father, who is at risk during the pandemic. Jemma (played by Jemma Moore) misses her friends so deeply that she sometimes walks up to Haley’s apartment to say hi. Meanwhile, Haley (played by Haley Bishop) is starting to imagine things as she lives on her own. Perhaps this is why Haley, in this film, decides that they should partake in an online séance, which quickly takes a horrifying turn.

Horror has always been a good genre for dealing with politics or timely events or happenings. Rob Savage’s Host is a solid effort, and, like Unfriended and Searching, it more than gets the job done. Savage’s film isn’t just scary, it is tension-filled, and it uses the Zoom-novelty to great effect. The ticking clock of the limited-and-unupgraded Zoom-call is really effective towards the end of the film’s lean runtime. It is true that the film relies on jump-scares, but I do think that some of them are well-earned, and I also think that the film’s fifty-six-minute runtime helps to make them bearable.

It goes without saying that this is probably this year’s most timely film. Like with Cho Il-hyung’s #Alive, this is a film that I will probably think about as one of the year’s most relevant films. This year, there has been a lot of talk about how you can make great films in a year as tumultuous as 2020, but Rob Savage’s film is proof that it is possible. Because I think this is one of the best horror films of the year. It isn’t the best computer screen film that I have ever seen — that title still belongs to Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching — but it is a thrilling low-budget horror film that fits right in with the popular Unfriended-films.

7.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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