With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing–whew–it comes as no surprise that we’d see the rise of the socially-distanced horror movie. I don’t mean ones like I mentioned before, where social distancing could have saved lives (or maybe not). No, instead I mean movies being filmed now, while we’re all still trying to stay safe. I mean stuff like the movie Host, which I’ll talk about in this review.
But First, A Land of Confusion
“Bella, I’m a vampire”–wait, that’s a different Stephenie Meyer story, image via Open Road Films
When I first googled the movie Host, the first thing I saw was a link to Rotten Tomatoes and a rating of 9%, which obviously alarmed me. I immediately realized, though, that it was actually for the movie The Host. That’s not Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 monster movie The Host, by the way. It’s also not the 2020 movie The Host about a banker and a cartel, but the 2013 one starring Saoirse Ronan, based on the book by Stephenie Meyer, the Twilight lady.
And when I referred to this movie in our work Slack as “the Zoom horror movie,” I realized that I had to clarify again. This is not Unsubscribe, the Zoom horror movie that topped the box office about a month ago. This is a different one, a Shudder original. Y’all got that?
Okay, So What is This Host Movie About?
image via Shudder
I was perhaps a bit unfair when I said that Unsubscribe sounded “like a variation on the Unfriended movie series.” In retrospect, after watching Host, I realized that there’s only so far you can go. By that I mean that if you’re making a Zoom (or Skype, in the case of Unfriended) horror movie, there are only so many variations you can create. By their very nature, these movies, with their multiple talking heads staring at each other onscreen, are limited. Unfriended: Dark Web thought outside of the box–or screen, rather–but they had the ability to. That movie wasn’t set in the middle of a global pandemic.
Host, however, is, and its characters reflect that, not just because we see some of them in masks. It starts with Haley (Haley Bishop), who’s invited her friends for a Zoom seance. These friends include Jemma (Jemma Moore) and Emma (Emma Louise Webb), who, like Haley, appears to be quarantining alone. There’s also Radina (Radina Drandova) and Teddy (Edward Linard), who are with their significant others, and Caroline (Caroline Ward), who’s with her family. Seylan (Seylan Baxter) is the medium-type who conducts the seance. Maybe we’ll talk to our Omas and Pepaws and they can tell us how they made it through hard times. Or probably not, because this is a horror movie, so you know that things aren’t going to work out for the best.
The Host Movie Review
image via Shudder
One of the things you’ll notice going in is that this is an abbreviated movie. In fact, it’s not even an hour long–it’s a crisp 56 minutes. That’s the first smart decision. Some filmmakers might have tried to drag out the suspense, but director Rob Savage (who also wrote the movie with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd) wisely holds back. The movie quickly establishes the main group–the six friends in the seance–as believable as real people and real friends. And it doesn’t make us sit through endless faux-natural conversations to do so, thankfully. Instead, after brief small talk, which shows–and doesn’t tell–the friendships, we jump right into the seance.
From there, the movie is off and running. I don’t want to give away too much–I feel uneasy just mentioning the demon. But I really can’t give away too much. The pleasures of the movie, the spooky surprises, are ones that I can’t really ruin because I can’t really replicate them for you. You have to experience it for yourself.
And what an experience it is. I’ve often lamented in recent years that I can’t find scary horror movies anymore. But then I said that The Rental wasn’t that scary* right before watching my coworker jump multiple times during the trailer. So maybe it’s more that I can’t find horror movies scary anymore–I need to recalibrate my scare-meter or whatever. So while Host didn’t linger with me–I went out to confront a strange man in my yard right after watching it (after midnight)–that’s not to say it isn’t scary. It legitimately startled me more than once. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not, coming from me.
No, the movie doesn’t break new ground either in its plot or in its filming style. It’s too short to get too deep, although the angry demon at this movie’s center is a big global mood. But still, there’s an excitement to it, the same way there was when The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity found new ways to wield found footage as a weapon. If this movie does well, then it’s easy to imagine a raft of imitators in its wake. Before that happens, though, you should check out the original.
It’s available on Shudder now and you can watch the trailer below.
Have you watched Host yet? Let us know what you think by commenting below or by attending our Zoom seances (talking to us on social media).
*Basically, if I say that something is “not that scary” or that a food is “not that spicy,” then your mileage may widely vary.
featured image via Shudder
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.