It is an obvious statement but the Covid pandemic has changed the world for ever more. What is interesting however is not the huge alterations but the small subtle things that have sprung up and quickly become part of everyday life. From wearing masks to constant hand washing to staying in to save lives, new points of reference have suddenly emerged and been sucked into the social conscious of the nation without us even being aware of it.
A case in point is that one year ago if you invited me onto a Zoom call I would have had no idea what you were talking about. In 2020 however the concept of video calls has become common place be they with your work, your friends or even your nan. A vital part of life during lockdown these video chats via a host of platforms keep us talking, keep us connected and keep us sane, allowing us to take a small step towards some semblance of normality in a world gone mad.
Using this communication advancement that is simultaneously brand new and yet strangely familiar to us all, director Rob Savage and his co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd created a stunningly simple yet disturbingly effective horror film that took found footage to another level in terms of originality and scares and that film is the tremendous Host.
Opening with a computer screen we as the viewer are invited to join a Zoom chat seemingly just like any other between six college friends who regularly call each other to stay in contact during these unusual times. It is American born Haley’s (Haley Bishop) turn to host and she decides to spice things up by organising an online seance for her and her pals.
Once each mate has dialled in and exchanged some much needed chit chat Hayley contacts the medium Seylan (Seylan Baxter) who runs them through the do’s and don’ts of the ritual and how it will work whilst the group giggle and play drinking games unable to take the seance seriously.
Although slow at first things take a spooky side track when Jemma (Jemma Moore) mentions a boy from her school who committed suicide by hanging himself and the spirit apparently appears making creepy contact with the gang.
However all is not what it seems and soon the friends are plunged into a nightmare as one by one they watch a supernatural presence assault and torment them in turn. With the clock ticking and the darkness descending it is a fight for survival that looks like it will not leave any witnesses alive at the end of the call.
Brilliantly building on the ground laid by The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, Rob Savage expertly turns the technology into a tool to insight pure fear guiding the viewer in with the familiarity and awareness of an everyday video conference call and then pulling the rug from under them as things become increasingly more terrifying.
A highly skilled director who blew us away with his stupendous horror short Dawn of the Deaf back in 2016, Savage ekes every scare out of the audience making so much from what is seemingly so little. Even from the off the tension is palpable increased by the realness of what we are watching and we start to search the screens, every shadow and every noise placing our nerves further and further on edge until suddenly something horrible happens.
A huge part of the power of the film is the amazing cast who are utterly convincing throughout making us feel like what we are watching is 100% real even though it is obviously not. Every interaction feels true, every reaction feels genuine and as each person is individually attacked in more and more unsettling ways we are as helpless as the remaining witnesses are, forced to sit and watch in stunned silence and dread just like them.
Interestingly Host is the first film that actually works better when watched on a laptop with the sound through headphones. Although stunning and spooky on the big screen be it in a cinema or at home the act of watching through the device that the characters are using themselves ups the terror and believability tenfold creating an immersive experience unlike many other horror films.
The commitment to reality within Host is pushed further by the shortened running time, something that in the past I have penalised films for but here is part of the format the story is presented in with an all to familiar cut off time for the call meaning there is an impending deadline to the final act as the countdown on the screen ebbs away.
An amazing achievement considering that it was made during lockdown they hype surrounding Host is completely legitimate and it functions both as a time capsule for the real horrors of 2020 and a jump in the genre of found footage to fresh and truly frightening new ground.
One of the scariest horror films of the last 10 years, one of the best horror films of the year and perhaps the best work of film to come out of lockdown, heed the call of Host and have the living hell scared out of you.