2020 continues its oppressive hold on America. As many grow frustrated with the world and the pandemic that has held us indoors, they have become reckless. From partiers on the beach to COVID parties, those who have not taken the moment seriously have lengthened the experience for all of us. While director Rob Savage may not have made a movie to directly shame people, his latest flick Host certainly chills. With a slick elevator pitch, a Zoom meeting seance goes bad, Savage crafts a metaphor that far outlives this moment.
Host begins with a group of friends meeting up to say hi to one another. Haley (Haley Bishop) has brought together her friends to hold a seance. The medium leading the group asks the young adults to take the event seriously, warning that she has never conducted a seance over the internet. To comply with social distancing, the group begins their Zoom chat. Slowly, strange things begin to occur at each of their houses after an unwelcome guest enters their orbit.
Savage co-wrote the screenplay with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, and the trio fit some great ideas into the efficient screenplay. They utilize the limitations of Zoom to tell a condensed, 57-minute story. Rather than blow time on the origins of their tormentor, the specter becomes a simple, horrifying monster. The runtime becomes an afterthought as the characters fight to survive as they watch their friends die in grotesque fashion. More importantly, the basic setup of Host explores how acting irresponsibly does not only affect oneself. The actions of one character ultimately doom the group, literally passing an unrepentant creature into their friend’s lives. While an expert tells these adults to be serious or dire consequences could befall them, this immaturity brings violence and death.
The film also embodies questions about mental health and social class in thriving in the pandemic. One character is stuck in a relationship that has gone sour during the pandemic, while another is stuck in a dark, one-bedroom apartment. These women are tortured the most. While these characters deal with the claustrophobia of quarantine, another lives in a literal mansion in the country. It’s a subtle touch that informs character motivations and actions throughout.
Ultimately, the story imbues the film with a high floor. Yet Savage and company were able to add genuinely terrifying kills and injuries throughout. The variation of the scares is one of the most impressive aspects of the film, which is only heightened as the film employs some clever techniques. The use of a virtual, repeating background becomes anxiety-inducing in its simplicity. Surprising effects help sell some truly wild moments that stand out in the found-footage tradition. The performances from the cast are the embodiment of who should win the “Scared-As-Shit” MTV movie award. Everyone conveys true terror, and that commitment sells the experience as a whole.
Host may be short on runtime, but it is jam-packed with excellent ideas. It’s one of the best horror movies of 2020 and seems destined to outlive this moment. Watching the film on a small TV, computer or phone will only enhance the scares. While many of us will want to escape this moment, Host works because it functions as an enduring time capsule. COVID has become one of the definitive moments of our lifetime. To have a filmed that captures this moment so intimately and profoundly is surprising. Host is far more than your run-of-the-mill horror flick, and should be one to savor in the years to come.