Impressions: Host

So if you are part of the horror community at all, you have likely at least heard of Host, a movie that just released on Shudder. The movie took approximately 12 weeks to complete, from concept to execution. The plan – make a movie about the lockdown. From there, we got a rather interesting “found footage” movie about a group that does a séance via Zoom call. I knew very little other than the broad idea of the Zoom call horror film before going in, and honestly, just getting it out of the way, I was impressed.

I was a bit nervous when I first loaded this movie up. Found footage horror is not my favorite. I would argue that movies like this which rely on the “computer screen” set up might belong in their own subgenre, but I get why they are lumped with found footage, as it is the best of the broader genres. Supernatural found footage movies were already not my favorite, and to be honest, I have felt they are a little overused in recent years. However, I attempted to put that out of my mind and embrace the movie for what it was (as I always do).

The movie is short, the run time is just shy of 60 minutes, and while from the outside, it made me concerned about the state of the movie being rushed, it served it well. The movie skips over a lot of the extras that we get in horror. We are given a brief introduction to our cast and learn enough about them that we get a general idea of who they are and how they will interact. Other than these brief moments, there is little as far as story or development in the movie. I know this sounds like a bad thing, I love a good story and character development, but it’s not. Instead of focusing on that, the movie decided to focus on the horror itself and how each individual responds to it, and it works.

We have so many supernatural horror movies that shoehorning in some plot to try to make it “unique,” and “standout” often doesn’t work. Host instead says, “here’s a bit of information so you can at least care somewhat, but otherwise, it’s about the scares.” There is limited information on why they are doing the séance and why it goes wrong. Many indie horror films I think shoot themselves in the foot because they are afraid to do this. The minds behind Host had a goal and were willing to make that goal the priority. Not every movie has a great, deeply developed plot, and that’s okay. Embrace what you want your project to be, and it will work for you.

And it’s not like there is an absence of any character or story, it’s there. The beginning introductions to each of the people on the Zoom call are actually a pretty perfect snapshot of who they are and how they are dealing with things. We are given the right amount of information. With the rushed countdown of getting this movie out, choosing to forgo more “story” was a smart call because it avoided a forced and underdeveloped story. They were also smart enough to give us some, though, as we still need to care about these characters.

Much like the story is sped up, so is the pacing. The movie jumps in quickly, gets to the fear fast, and has little in the way of red herrings or delays. Once things kick-off, we are in it and given very little breathing room. Yet the pacing feels decent enough. The movie does rely heavily on jump scares, but there is good tension and build-up leading to most of them. I will also say that there is a lot of unfair hatred for “surprise scares” in movies. I tend to prefer slow-paced suspense heavy movies myself. However, faster movies like this with a lot of startles and surprises have their place and are effective. The movie does not fall short with the intense moments where you know something is coming, and you are not made comfortable while waiting for it.

I think my biggest issue with this movie was how they used the Zoom call’s limitations. Going in, I was, of course, reminded of Unfriended; however, these movies work with that idea differently. Unfriended is very much a computer screen horror. There is limited movement away from the “webcams”, and despite my having so many issues with the movie overall, I loved how much it embraced what they were working with. Host doesn’t really do that. Host has a lot of movement and feels more like a traditional “found footage” shaky-cam horror.

I would have liked for Host to have been more stationary. However, what is there is well done and super effective, so it’s hard to say that this is anything more than a personal preference and certainly not a bad choice. The extra movement gave the movie more room (heh) to work with as far as where and how to use scares and made for some pretty incredible moments. Without giving anything away, the flour was one of my favorite ways this movie set up scares, which wouldn’t have worked with a more stationary feel.

It is also well-acted, edited, everything technical about it is solid, which given the restraints, is impressive. In fact, that is what really stands out about this movie for me. It had the potential to feel rushed. We know they only had a few months from idea to release. We know the movie is a shorter run time than others. There is so much there that could have made this feel like an incomplete movie and it simply… doesn’t. It feels more fleshed out than some movies that have taken twice as long, even more. It was a hell of a feat. Just the other night, I complained about a movie that had six months and how much you could tell that it was a rushed project, and Host avoided that. It is, frankly, awesome.

So bottom line? Well, this movie is getting a lot of praise in the horror community, and I agree. It is not the best or scariest movie I have ever seen. However, it is actually ahead of the supernatural found footage game lately (my apologies to other filmmakers) and is an entertaining movie. It is not just a movie that deserves credit for what it did in the time it did, although again, I cannot praise everyone involved enough for that. No, even without the limitations, we know it was under it’s still a good movie. It hasn’t converted me to a lover of the subgenre, but it was one I enjoyed and will revisit again.

An extra note, this is very much a lockdown movie, but it does not exploit what is going on. My fear is that as things “get back to normal” (whatever that means) that a lot of movies will come out that will not merely take place during these times but be exploitative of it. The fear of being locked and isolated is there and adds an extra layer to it, but it does this without being too in your face or… too much? This movie could have easily felt “too soon” or “tasteless” and does not at all.

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