My notes on timely Shudder original Host (2020)
I’d bet that several bright sparks around the world will have thought of making a film like this during lockdown – but Rob Savage actually managed the not inconsiderable feat of getting it together and directing the film without being in the same room as any of his stars. Six youngish, bored-in-isolation friends with their own barely-glimpsed but definite back story relationships, hire a mumsy but macabre Scottish medium (Seylan Baxter) to a host a séance via Zoom, and an ill-thought-out joke invites an evil spirit (James Swanton) to mess with them all … via Paranormal Activity in the background of their webcam views, and then much nastier business.
An up-to-the-minute gloss on found footage horror (with a particular ancestor in The St Francisville Experiment), Host spins off the recent computer desktop cycle (The Den, Unfriended, Open Windows), and is canny enough to keep the running time down to 56 minutes so as not to outstay the welcome of the format. The let-s-face-it doomed pals are nicely varied, and manage to relate to each other without being in the same physical space … with Haley Bishop as the hostess (though not necessarily the host), Jemma Moore as the impulsive prankster who wonders whether she’ll be able to understand her Chinese-speaking dead grandparents on the astral plane, Edward Linard as the token guy in the gang who’s also got a subtle tendency to be a tool (he’s holed up in his rich girlfriend’s enviably spacious estate while his friends are in more cramped situations), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova and Caroline Ward. All going from jokey to irritated to serious to terrified as not-unexpected creepy stuff involving music boxes, puppets, gurning phantoms, etc plays out.
This may, by default, end up being the defining horror film of 2020 – certainly one-upping Corona Zombies, and liable to get ahead of the queue of all those release-on-hold horrors that might well seem beside the point whenever they do make it to socially distanced screens or streaming platforms.
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