Six friends hold a séance via a video conference and inadvertently admit something unknown into their meeting. Genius contemporary horror from Rob Savage and friends.
OK so I’ve finally watched Host (Shudder) this evening. I had to do a little bit of cooking and washing up then, to bring me back down to the ground, grab a large whiskey before sitting back here in front of a laptop. Host is damned effective horror for the age of Zoom.
Six friends get together on a video meeting, not for a board game or quiz, as many have done during this most modern of pandemics, but for a séance. Each of them joins gradually, some nervously, all with their “trigger objects”; and then the medium is admitted into the meeting. If only they had followed instructions and treated the experience with respect.
Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard play the group of friends, and in the tradition of The Blair Witch Project, their characters use their own first names. Haley is the one who organized the online séance and invited the medium (Seylan Baxter), a friend of hers. All of their roles are pretty balanced in Host, except for Seylan and Teddy, who are not there for long; Seylan because of internet problems, and Teddy because of his girlfriend. And I cannot think of any other group of friends I’ve seen on screen in recent times who seemed so authentic. Whether this is because they know each other in real life, because of the writing, the improvisation, the direction… who knows; probably a combination. BBC may have produced Staged earlier, but that comes across as pretentious in comparison to these real people we can relate to.
(It also probably helped that I’d never seen these faces before, so found it very easy to just accept the personalities they were showing me. The only exception was Seylan Baxter, who I had seen just earlier this year in Doctor Who – The Timeless Children as Tecteun.)
The whole thing felt bloody real. By now, half a year into the COVID-19 crisis, I imagine everyone reading this will have experienced a meeting on Zoom, Twitter, Webex, or similar, whether for work, socializing or keeping in touch with distant family. We know what this can look and feel like. Host is therefore the epitome of a “contemporary” horror film: it has been written and made during this pandemic, under its restrictions, and within its now-familiar framing. Consequently, while watching Host, I didn’t feel like I was watching a film, but I was lurking in the wings of a real video call. All of the trappings of the app are there, such as backgrounds and filters, and are used effectively for the sake of both visual horror and real elements to the story, not just gimmicks.
Computers and the internet are so ingrained in our 21st-century culture that they have been used many, many times; both intelligently and not so much. Host is remarkable in the way that it uses not just the video call as a setting for the plot, but also the lockdown period we are in as context and as a way to make that video call relevant. There may be a couple of leaps in logic to the supernatural elements of the film, and a daft moment or two; but as long as it feels like I am watching something which is happening RIGHT NOW, then I don’t care: it is real. (So real that when my Shudder app had a buffering moment, I thought that was part of the film.)
The realism of the medium also explains why the film is so short (at 56 minutes, including rather smart credits): we watch from when Haley switches on her computer, and from when the meeting itself starts, the film is limited to the duration of free meetings available to the public on Zoom.
And there must have been something in those homes with those six friends! Host was made just in the last few months, a period when nobody goes into each other’s homes without a damn good reason. What I was seeing must have been real… the chairs moving, the poor woman being knocked against her desk, the – no, not going to think about that one. I’m still Shuddering. Look either it was real, or the cast did everything themselves.
Host was directed by Rob Savage and written also by him along with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd. Between them, the cast and the editor Brenna Rangott, this film was made by a genius team. I’ve seen many found-footage horror films, but this one is relevant and contemporary like no other.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.