Host  Review: Pandemic-Fuelled Filmmaking Ingenuity
A deceptively simple yet downright terrifying thrill ride that's much better than it had any right to be, Host turns reality into nightmare by tapping into contemporary fears, and is an intelligent, effective & genuinely frightening example of pandemic-fuelled creativity. One of the best horror films of the year, this bone-chilling story of a séance over zoom call gone wrong is a must for all genre enthusiasts.
A surge of creativity, imagination & resourcefulness that’s derived from all the real-life restrictions currently in place due to the ongoing global pandemic, Host is a deceptively simple yet downright terrifying thrill ride that thrives amidst the limitations around it, and is a smartly crafted & ingeniously executed fright delight that makes every moment of its 56-mins runtime count.
With the world under the grip of the deadly coronavirus and quarantine restrictions in place, the story follows a group of six friends who get together with a medium to hold a séance over a zoom call. But things soon get out of hand when all of them begin to feel an evil presence in their houses that starts terrorising them, and realise that they may have gotten more than what they bargained for.
Co-written & directed by Rob Savage, Host takes its time to set up the premise and firmly grounds its plot in today’s COVID-19 climate before elevating the horror aspects. The first half is all about acquainting the audience with the characters and establishing the rapport & chemistry between them. However, once the board is set and pieces start moving, the director unleashes absolute terror on screen.
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What’s also impressive about Savage’s direction is that he doesn’t try to rush things. This is old-school storytelling in a present-day settings, and its first priority is to make its viewers invest in the whole setup before ratcheting things up. And the film achieves that with its believable set of characters who are finely rendered by a talented young cast, in addition to the slick & impressive use of visual & sound effects.
Though there are foreshadowings, predictable routines & genre tropes to be found here, Host does make the most of every resource it has at its disposal. It keeps playing to its strengths, is aware of its boundaries, and works within the confinements to deliver a steadily escalating & nail-biting experience that silently draws people in during the first half and then keeps them on the edge of their seats until the very end.
As often is the case with found-footage films, there is a strictly limited point-of-view, this time it being the laptop screens of all characters on zoom call. Them carrying the device around despite the ghostly events intensifying in their rooms makes little sense yet this is only a small nitpick when compared to the so many things it gets right. The plot is lean, briskly paced, expertly acted, and doesn’t allow the tension to dissipate once all horror elements kick in.
Jump scares are dismissed by many as cheap tricks but when done right, they can be powerfully effective. And Host earns almost all its jump scares by using them as a catalyst instead of relying entirely on them. The convincing acts by the young actors help lift the story above the notch, for their fears & confusions aptly mirror our own. And though the frights are not extremely inventive, some are even derivative, what makes them click so well here is their timing, precision & proper execution.
On an overall scale, Host is far better than it had any right to be and provides the desired thrills in nerve-wracking doses, thus delivering an experience that far exceeded my expectations. Turning reality into a nightmare by tapping into contemporary fears and making it work in the story’s favor, this bone-chilling tale of a séance over zoom call gone wrong is an intelligent, effective & genuinely frightening example of pandemic-fuelled filmmaking ingenuity. And with only an hour to spare, it is a must-see for all horror fans.