COVID-19 has caused many changes to our way of life throughout 2020, and it has also had a huge impact on the movie business. Studios have had to adapt to the way they shoot new pictures, and in many cases those same studios have had to hold back some of their biggest releases, until such time as cinemas worldwide can reopen fully.
For many in the industry, the global pandemic has put the brakes on various projects. However, for some, it has encouraged a great deal of creativity and opportunity.
Step forward Rob Savage – the director behind Host, a British found footage/cam horror film, which recently made its debut on Shudder. The film – written by Savage, Gemma Hurley, and Jed Shepherd – was filmed in the space of 12 weeks, in the midst of lockdown, with Savage and his actors working remotely.
Set during the COVID-19 pandemic, the film tells the story of a group of friends who keep in touch via Zoom. During one of their regular video calls the gang decide to invite a medium into their virtual gathering, in order to conduct a séance.
With candles lit and the lights down low, the Zoom séance initially appears to be a waste of time; but soon, the group find themselves experiencing something rather sinister. And as the call continues, the true horror unfolds, with grave repercussions for all involved.
You know, I watch a lot of horror movies, and it is rare for any genre piece to move me in anyway. I can spot a jump scare a mile away; monsters and ghouls do little to raise my temperature; and there are many horror films which leave me underwhelmed.
Despite my interest in horror, it is rare for me to find something which scares me. But Host scared me. It genuinely, scared me.
I will hold my hands up now and say, I was creeped out on at least two occasions, and I jumped once. I almost never jump at a horror movie, but Host made me jolt from the comfort of my sofa and I nearly spilled my drink.
This is a good movie – a very good movie. And based on its limited budget and its premise, a surprisingly effective one too.
Using the internet and video calls to create scares is nothing new. Paranormal Activity 4 utilised webcams to create some spooky goings on in 2012; Unfriended went the route of Skype to freak out audiences in 2014; and in 2018, Cam focused on the online sex industry to explore psychological horror.
Because I have seen modern technology used to invoke and enable spooks on many occasions now, it is fair to say I expect very little from this brand of horror. In the case of Host, I also figured that from its very short running time (just under an hour), its humble origins would be exposed. But I could not have been more wrong.
Host manages to do two things very, very well. Firstly, it doesn’t waste any time in telling its story, and manages to craft a very strong horror tale with little to no filler. Secondly it brings innovation to this well-worn subgenre.
Sure, there are moments that feel a little reminiscent of standard horror films – including a scene in which one character goes to ‘explore the mysterious noise’ in her house – but for the most part, Host aims for something new. This means making use of Zoom features to heighten tension, and playing up the frustrations of using this sometimes-problematic tech to put everyone on edge.
And speaking of tension, Host also manages to create a very tense atmosphere even though all of the characters are remote. In fact, it uses the remote angle to its advantage, to highlight that while all the characters are able to connect through the internet, for the most part they are at home alone, in the middle of a pandemic, and vulnerable.
I can’t stress this enough; Host is a great little horror. OK, so it has shades of Paranormal Activity, and Ghostwatch in its palette, but these are mild touches rather than sweeping brushstrokes. And while it isn’t an entirely original concept by any stretch of the imagination, it plays to its strengths to serve up a ghoulish ghost story.
If you want something to creep you out, then Host is highly recommended. You will need to watch it via Shudder – available through Amazon – but if you make use of a free trial, you can view it without any cost.
So, no excuses. Switch off your phone, turn off the lights, and give yourself over to Host. No distractions – just sit and watch for 57 minutes and be afraid. Be very afraid.