Shudder Originals: Host (2020) - Reviewed

This year has forced the entertainment industry to get creative.  Instead of summer blockbusters, we’re getting classic double features at drive-ins.  Indie movie theaters are selling “virtual movie screenings” to stay afloat.  We now know what every talk show host and SNL cast member’s home looks like, thanks to the lack of live studio audiences.

With Hollywood on pause during this pandemic, what was a creative filmmaker to do?  The answer is equal parts ingenious and sensible:  shoot a film on Zoom.  The result?  One of the scariest horror films of the past few decades.  Picking up where films like Unfriended left off, Host is a near-perfect experiment on how much can be accomplished with a miniscule budget, and it ends up knocking films with ten times its budget out of the water.

Based on the simple premise of a virtual séance via Zoom gone awry (please don’t try this at home), Host manages to feel fresh from beginning to end.  Sure, it has some of the tropes one might expect from the average ghost movie, but they’re executed so skillfully that it’s easy to get immersed in the film’s world.  As we watch six 20-something-year-old girls get more than they bargained for after their psychic medium loses her internet connection, the audience feels like they’re lurking in the background of this haunted hangout.  While little is known about any of these characters outside of some scant exposition near the beginning, we quickly become invested – even when some of the girls aren’t particularly likable people.

This film has elements of a “found footage” style film, but it completely revitalizes the over-bloated genre, creating a sense of immediacy that many others don’t, all the while taking advantage of its unique presentation.  It knows when switch to a first-person perspective, it knows how to naturally build suspense, and it knows what to show the viewer.  Even more importantly, it knows what not to show, which is something only the best horror films do well.  The imagination can cause great turmoil in its “host” when given the opportunity.  Have a few effective sound effects in an unlit room, and it’s nightmares for days.

With a running time of under an hour, Host accomplishes what many horror films can’t after a full two hours.  It’s beyond efficient in every regard, putting the audience on a nonstop roller coaster ride of tension once the downhill descent gains momentum:  a harrowing experience, to say the least, but it’s a damn good time for anyone that likes to be scared.  Best of all?  Director Rob Savage makes this all seem effortless, although we can be rest assured it was anything but that to pull this off without a hitch.

Host is the Blair Witch Project for the 21st century:  terrifying in its minimalism, brilliantly resourceful, and quite possibly even revolutionary (we’ll see about that).  While 2020 has been an incessant series of disappointments, heartaches, and anxieties, at least we’ve had one good thing come of this mess.  It’s hard to think of this year having any “silver linings,” but if there was one, Host would be it.  It is entirely a child of quarantine, and it will make any horror fan feel a little better about obligatorily staying inside – at least for an hour.

-Andrea Riley