The concept of an entire movie playing out on a computer screen isn’t exactly a new one. A great example of this style of filmmaking was 2018 movie Searching, which I am a huge fan of. Back in 2014, Unfriended took the online chat room and managed to turn it into a horror movie, proving what could be achieved within such basic confines. And now, new Shudder horror Host continues in that theme, presenting us with a Zoom chat that goes horribly wrong.
Where Host differs from Unfriended is in its timely release. Filmed over a 12 week period during lockdown, and taking place entirely within the timeframe of a 60 minute Zoom call, Host portrays what we’ve all experienced in recent months – the socially distanced meetup with friends or colleagues online. And then it throws in some supernatural jump scares to terrify us into never wanting to participate in one ever again!
Host follows six friends, as they logon for their weekly Zoom catch-up. Only this time, Haley has suggested that they also hold an online séance, and has invited Irish spiritualist Seylan to join in and guide them through the experience. Before Seylan joins the chat though, we get to spend some time with the friends and you can’t help but feel at ease with the familiarity of seeing a group of people chatting together on screen, each in a different location. Even more so if you’re watching all of this play out on a small screen, as I was.
It’s clear from the start though that some of the group aren’t looking to take the séance too seriously, with one of them suggesting that they also play a drinking game. Whenever Seylan says the phrase “astral plane”, they decide they will try and down a drink without her realising what they’re up to. Consequently, it’s not long before one of the group has managed to ‘disrespect the spirits’, and when Seylan gets cut off the chat following connection issues, all manner of strange things begin happening to each of the group.
A number of them are in darkened rooms, so obviously you find yourself straining your eyes, searching for something out of the ordinary in every corner of the screen. There are the usual strange noises, lights flashing, with the occasional rational explanation behind it. And then there are plenty of big scares too – practical, effective effects that really pack a punch and are truly terrifying.
Important to all of this is the believability of our cast. Thankfully, their performances all feel believable, their friendship and conversation natural. I did find Teddy, the only male of the group, to be pretty annoying, but luckily he only appears briefly at the beginning and at the end of the movie.
Host came about after director and co-writer, Rob Savage, made a Zoom prank, which went viral after sharing on Twitter back in April. It’s a fortunate side effect of the pandemic that filmmakers have been forced to explore new and creative ways of making movies. And Host is an excellent, shining example of just how well that can pay off.
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