I saw this film after too much hype had passed and it’s my own damn fault. I seem to have a complicated relationship with found footage in that I almost roll my eyes at its cheap tricks – mainly of it being immersive by design (and seemingly effortlessly so, like they’re not even trying, but actually a ton of work goes into that), but then after I watch a found footage movie I end up liking almost all of them because I was both enthralled by the story and genuinely scared by the scares (which hardly ever happens these days).
Host, directed by Rob Savage, garnered mountains of buzz owing to the fact that it was shot during the 2020 covid-19 lockdowns and takes place entirely over a Zoom call. It’s already got the aforementioned immersive nature thanks to it being found footage, but over a year in which everyone and their mum got together over Zoom – for interviews, work, socialising, even Christmas and wedding celebrations – that this makes it that much more terrifying when set against the real-life horror of the early days of the (still awful) global pandemic.
The film follows a group of friends who, possibly out of pure lockdown boredom, conduct a séance with a medium. But, as is usually the case in this genre, something starts to feel a bit off and the group starts to fear that they’re unleashed something malevolent.
[SPOILER about what doesn’t happen in the end – but thereby ruling it out for you – after the jump]
The more I think about this film, the more I remember things I really enjoyed about how it was produced. The story itself is believable, and the character who came up with the séance idea is already friends with the medium and has done this previously with no issues. They also seem to know what they’re doing in terms of candles, mantras etc so, for the most part, it looks as though they’re not just blindly wandering into something as heavy-duty-supernatural as a séance because, as it’s basically stated, a séance is essentially opening your front door and leaving it open all night while yelling for whomever to drop by. The actors all do a fantastic job at conveying genuine chemistry – no small feat over what looks like isolated video calls – in the short time we have allotted for build-up (the entire film is only 50 minutes, which is exactly the time limit for free Zoom calls).
But once things start getting scary, it really goes for it, leading to some truly horrifying moments – again, really hard I think to do over a Zoom call in which cameras are typically static. But the ways in which the cameras keep filming is still believable, such as everyone being mostly on laptops but briefly on phones, even though devices fall in a way that frame the shot in an ideal way (though I’m choosing to believe that’s the entity fucking with them, making them see everything properly). [SPOILER: I briefly legit thought that the camera would pan out to see that the character operating the Zoom controls was actually the entity itself, although I’m so glad the film didn’t opt for that kind of meta-cheesiness.] As far as the rest of the technical side goes, it’s again so immersive in how the Zoom controls were used exactly as they would be in real life, rather than some fake program or blatant mistakes (I didn’t catch any).
Indeed they are from different directors (and countries), but I far preferred Host to Unfriended, mainly because the latter deliberately populates its film with irredeemably unlikeable characters, which normally you’d relish in watching bad things happen to, but not in a format where we’re forced to stare at their hateful faces for the entire duration of the film. Host has characters who converse and feel like you know them in real life (not least because I’m also British), heightening the impact of the scares because you immediately root for them all. I’m also a bit biased towards ghost stories because of how intangible a spirit is in terms of defeat – you can’t stab a ghost – and the spiritual language barrier and mixed bag of lore means it’s not immediately clear if you can reason/talk/bargain with the thing to get rid of it. It’s like having a bag of silent wasps in your house.
I watched this on my laptop, which is probably the best way to spook myself, but I think it would be even more fun to watch this with friends via a remote watch party – maybe even over Zoom. But, since there’s no wiggle room around the 53 (including credits)-minute runtime, best upgrade past the free account, then.