Tapping into the limitless potential of cyber technology, several modern horror films have embraced our new tech wave with inventive results. Efforts like Unfriended and Searching have glued audiences into the normalized view of computer screens, utilizing our habitual web searches as a canvas for lurking scares to be unleashed. While those films showed promise in their experimental nature, Shudder’s latest horror film Host is the first offering to mine potent scares from its lo-fi premise.
Set during the current COVID-19 pandemic, Host follows six friends who decide to bond by performing a seance over Zoom. What was supposed to be an adventurous journey turns sinister when one of the friends tells a fake story about a dead acquaintance, which births an unknown entity that wreaks havoc on the call.
Director Rob Savage accomplishes an impressive feat with his minimalist, made in quarantine horror outing. The amount of preparation to make this production run smoothly was exhaustive (Savage had to coordinate the scares from afar while teaching his cast a variety of stunt techniques), yet none of those challenges appear in the final product. The naturalism Savage creates is an essential asset to the atmosphere built here, grounding his narrative in our current zeitgeist with a seamless effect. The dialogue flows naturally without feeling overwritten, while the unheralded cast offers convincing performances as an accustomed group of friends.
Host succeeds most at delivering the unpretentious thrills that horror fans crave. A truncated 56 minute run time allows for the director to trim the fat and focus on developing a sense of unease from the jump, building a lingering sense of dread that bursts once the set pieces are released. Utilizing a refreshing amount of ingenious practical effects, the scares land with stellar results. Savage’s mixture of creative design work and pertinent timing allows these frames to hit with more impact than most mainstream horror outings, displaying the makeshift spirit that makes the genre so beloved.
Host does a lot to impress, yet it’s clear there’s still some room for refinement. Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepard, and Savage’s screenplay sticks to horror conventions with their supernatural premise, never discovering a fresh direction to take the narrative in. What the film misses deeply is a substantive core, lacking a level of depth that would have made the uneasy horror moments resonate on a grander level (the current-day setting seems like a missed opportunity). Given the circumstances though, it’s an achievement to create a fully-formed film, let alone one with Host’s level of craftsmanship.
Delivering a mixture of creativity and ingenuity to the horror genre, Host marks a promising debut from director Ron Savage.
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