Writer-director Brandon Christensen has a distinctive line in deceptively low-key domestic horror movies. Still/Born is about post-natal depression as new mum Christie Burke is haunted by the baby she lost and comes to believe its spirit has targeted a surviving twin. Z is another mother-and-child horror as Keegan Connor Tracy worries that her alienated son has inherited her own evil childhood imaginary friend.
Superhost, Christensen’s latest, is a contribution to Air B ‘n’ B horror – a trend which along with rideshare horror now occupies a spot recently held by cellphone horror – and also another entry in the give-influencers-a-bad-time cycle. Peppy, brittle vloggers Claire (Sara Canning) and Teddy (Osric Chau) have differing concerns – Claire is worried that they are haemorrhaging followers thanks to a lingering dispute with ‘the bitch from Draper’ (Barbara Crampton, always welcome) while Teddy is planning to spring a proposal of marriage on camera not to juice up their ratings but because he’s mushy inside. They settle in for a weekend in an idyllic remote home, though a few tiny glitches – a changed security code, a blocked toilet, omnipresent surveillance cameras – sound ominous notes. Superhost Rebecca (Gracie Gillam, in an extraordinary smile-and-eyes performance), who springs into action in a manic attempt to stave off a bad review, is obviously such a character the vloggers can’t resist playing up her clownishness for extra likes and subscriptions, but Rebecca’s fervour swiftly turns into knife-wielding frenzy.
It’s a pandemic era feature, with a speaking cast of four and a single (impressive) location – and the embrace of smallness of scale means that the actors get a work-out to bring nuance to their roles, in characterisations that veer between sweet and terrifying. It covers a lot of ground that’s familiar from other films about superficial, desperate internet minor celebs, but there’s nice business about the way the psycho – who comes across as a mix of Annie Wilkes and Harley Quinn – is puppyishly eager to please while the vloggers have tumbled that there’s more follower interest in a disastrous weekend than a smoothly-run happy holiday. A couple of twists come along, when the ‘bitch from Draper’ shows up pursuing a vendetta against the couple who ruined her business, but it could profitably have done with a few more – though the home stretch is gruesomely satisfying.
Gillam appeared (as Grace Phipps) in the Fright Night remake, had regular roles in The Vampire Diaries, Scream Queens and Z Nation, adorned Disney’s Teen Beach franchise (no? me neither), and has been in several interesting horror indies (Dark Summer, Some Kind of Hate, Tales of Halloween). This ought to be her breakthrough performance.