HOST movie poster | ©2020 Shudder

HOST movie poster | ©2020 Shudder

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Edward Linard, Seylan Baxter
Writers: Gemma Hurley & Rob Savage & Jed Shepherd
Director: Rob Savage
Distributor: Shudder
Release Date: July 30, 2020

HOST, not to be confused with Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 monster movie THE HOST, the 1998 telefilm also known as VIRTUAL OBSESSION, the 2013 release starring Saoirse Ronan and Max Irons or any of the other over 450 films of that title (per IMDB), is now streaming on Shudder.

The new HOST has the distinction of being shot, set, edited and released during the COVID-19 pandemic. Genuine social distancing was employed during production, with each performer in their own space, reportedly creating many of their own practical effects, being directed remotely by Rob Savage. As such, it’s an impressive piece of indie filmmaking. Even more impressive, it actually works up some real scares.

HOST is probably not for people so sick of quarantine Zoom chats by now that they’d rather experience a genuine demonic infestation. For everyone else, HOST may conjure memories of both 2015’s UNFRIENDED, which used Facebook/Skype technology to similar effect, and the original 2007 PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which was creepy despite a tight budget and relatively few locations.

Haley (Haley Bishop) is the one American among a group of otherwise English friends, all cheerful young women except for Teddy (Edward Linard). Haley has arranged for a séance on Zoom, hosted by the gentle, serious medium Seylan (Seylan Baxter). The idea is to summon the spirit of a dead loved one for communication, which Seylan assures everyone is perfectly safe, so long as the rules are followed.

It may be that Savage and his co-writers, Gemma Hurley & Jed Shepherd, intend some sort of metaphor for the deadly consequences of rule-breaking in HOST with the consequences of rule-breaking with coronavirus (wear masks, stay six feet apart). Even if HOST is meant to be taken at face value, the writers have come up with an easy-to-comprehend, creepy explanation for what’s happening and why. The scares work both in terms of suspense and jumps, as well as some supernatural glitches, like a character shown to be both dead and alive at the same time.

Because we are so acutely aware of both the financial and crew restrictions here, it’s more jolting than it might be in bigger-budget fare when furniture starts moving and characters wind up in impossible positions.

There’s a leisurely introduction period, but once things start going bump in the night, the pace ramps up briskly. The running time is a quick fifty-six minutes, too short for a theatrical release, but just right for the material. The cast is all good, with Bishop and the warm Baxter as standouts.

One doesn’t want to overhype HOST – the movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the genre, or even the subgenre – but it appears to achieve everything its makers set out to do. Furthermore, it’s highly entertaining, and gives us hope that maybe something new and interesting may happen during our next real-life Zoom chat.

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