They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but it’s some relation to the tried-and-tested, too.
With most of the global population on lockdown for some portion of the last six months, we’ve all got used to seeing our friends virtually. But what if our friends weren’t the only ones keeping us company? Of-the-moment indie horror film Host makes use of the familiar shot-on-a-desktop format (see also, Unfriended), lent additional potency by its topicality.
Hayley (Haley Bishop), Jemma (Jemma Moore), Emma (Emma Louise Webb), Radina (Radina Drandova), and Caroline (Caroline Ward) all jump on a Zoom call. Some of them live alone, others are living with a partner or staying with family; depending, it seems, on the actor’s actual living arrangements. Teddy (Edward Linard) is onboard for a few minutes till his girlfriend Jinny (Jinny Lofthouse) drags him away.
They’ve also all agreed, with various degrees of trepidation and amusement, to take part in a virtual seance, led by an acquaintance of Hayley’s, Seylan (Seylan Baxter); a first for her also, apparently. While the group initially get a giggle over Seylan’s casual chat about the spirit world – surreptitious drinks whenever she says “astral plane” – things quickly take a turn when they fail to pay proper respect.
Something is unleashed, which for the rest of the film’s runtime plays merry havoc with all those on the call, picking them off one by one.
Coming in at 56 minutes including credits, just under the length of a standard free Zoom call, Host makes effective use of the format, if never quite innovating on it. Aided by some deft in-world camerawork from his cast, director Rob Savage leaves plenty of neat negative space for ghostly phenomena to occur, but keeps it nice and understated. All the more impactful, then, when violence does erupt.
Tense and brutal, one incident will forever change how you view virtual backgrounds. Another shows you just how creepy filters can be. The clever deployment of a Polaroid camera also sets up a few frights, as does the strategic use of a selfie stick, but it feels like there are still some scares left in the video-chat arena.
If not exactly groundbreaking, Host makes full use of its limited budget and resources1 for an efficient and genuinely unsettling case study on how technology and the supernatural do not mix.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an online Ouija session on Google Hangouts to get to.
Host is available to watch on Shudder (www.shudder.com).