4 out of 5 stars

Rob Savage’s low-budget feature Host is sensational and creepy. I’m usually against found-footage films because, ever since The Blair Witch Project (1999) became a phenomenon, aspiring filmmakers have seen them as the quickest way to get rich with a relatively small investment. They’re not wrong, but only a few of them can pull off this sub-genre successfully.

Host works because we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, at time of writing. We’ve been communicating through video chats, phone calls, and text messages for months. We’re isolated inside our homes, watching films and television like there’s no tomorrow, and it’s taking a toll.

The premise of Host is appealing because it reflects on the present. We’ve been Zoom-calling for what feels like forever, so we can easily relate. It wouldn’t work this well in any other circumstances, but the creators grasped the potential smartly enough to employ it for desperate times.

If somebody was to describe Host’s plot starting with the sentence, ‘they’re holding a séance using a Zoom-call’, I’d roll my eyes and tell them to stop watching such nonsense. I’d be wrong. The casting is spot on by showcasing a bunch of girls who make humorous comments regarding the current situation and each other’s personal lives. And there’s that one goofy guy, whom you know for sure will bite the dust sooner or later.

Actresses Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Lousie Webb, Radina Drandova, and Caroline Ward (their actual first names are used in Host) are close friends with each other and director Rob Savage in real life. The whole idea of the film began as a prank by Savage, who made a short video disguised as live footage, showing him going up to his spooky attic to take a look before finding something terrifying up there. The clip quickly went viral and triggered an interest for a fleshed-out feature, which the group, led by Savage, shot completely virtually within 12 weeks.

Savage also has an arsenal of award-winning short films in his portfolio, and after Host created such a buzz following its release on Shudder, Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) has agreed to produce Savage and Shepherd’s next project, Seaholme.

It’s no wonder why we instantly feel a connection between all the characters, over several screens, which creates a verisimilitude bringing us closer to them as if we’re another friend joining in the web-chat. The film doesn’t waste any time and, after we met all the characters in a short exposition, the séance begins with a typical “spiritual” old lady whose internet connection goes south once she and the girls summon a blood-thirsty demon from the “other side.”

Then Host starts to exploit every aspect of the found-footage genre: strange and sudden noises, virtual filters, opening cupboards, white footprints, flying chairs, and invisible forces that scare the living life out of the cast and the audience at the same time. As I stated before, I’m not a huge fan of the sub-genre, but Savage’s feature is such an entertaining and improvisational scare you appreciate every bit of effort being put into it.

Savage wrings every scream out of every scene. Somehow he manages to keep everything together in a suspenseful whole that holds our attention and doesn’t let it go for 57-minutes. However, the real genius behind this movie is perhaps the editor, Brenna Rangott. She deserves kudos for cuts that’ll cause goosebumps and a near heart attack before the end credits roll.

Jump-scares are defined as “a tactic used in horror movies to scare people, the jump scare is used by unimaginative filmmakers as a cheap method of frightening the audience.” They’re hardly unavoidable modern horror elements, but Savage and Rangott come up with inventive ways of deploying them throughout.

I actually doubt Host will become a cult classic, as we’ll likely have forgotten about it before the year’s over, but in a genre that’s challenging enough itself with various forms (see also the brilliantly written and shocking 2018 masterpiece Searching), Host took advantage of a global pandemic in a delicious way. Hopefully, we’ll remember it as a creepy coronavirus feature that eased our suffering in self-isolation.

UK | 2020 | 57 MINUTES | 1.78:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Rob Savage.
writers: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage & Jed Shepherd.
starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Teddy Linard & Seylan Baxter.