Host: A perfect lockdown movie

Host is a 2020 found-footage movie, set on a haunted zoom call. To answer the obvious question: it’s not just a gimmick, and is much, much better than it needed to be.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to watch this in a cinema; and I wonder if it would have been better watched on a laptop or phone rather than on my projector. It’s a serious question: this is a film that is all about technology and connection, and it’s one where most of the audience will be watching it alone, or in their household bubble.

The film dispatches with all the zoom cliches quickly and, given the weird pace of the year, feels almost nostalgic. This scene-setting genuinely felt like a group of friends meeting online, and made me laugh a couple of times. Zoom’s clunkiness is used superbly, all those limitations like low bandwidth, buffering and so on. The video-conferencing allowed some brilliant reaction shots to the events in other windows, and the classic Blair-Witch-crying-into-the-camera shot seemed much more natural than in other found footage films.

Despite being filmed on zoom, there are some moments where you can’t help wondering how the effects were achieved, especially if you know that everything was done under social distancing. Apparently stuntmen collaborated with the actors on how to achieve the effects at home; and where this was not possible, they found spaces in their own houses that looked close enough to the actors’ houses to allow cuts. I certainly didn’t notice this at the time.

Horror has always worked with new technology, and this is a great example of that (I loved the comparison of texting and telepathy). There are also some interesting moments around filters and corporeality. Most interesting of all was the seance’s creation of a magical space, and the analysis of how we build spaces on zoom. The characters were cut off from one another by the virus, making them isolated while in danger.

(Early in lockdown I was in a call that got zoombombed. The sense of violation and isolation that caused was incredible – people dropped off the call and found themselves traumatised in their own domestic space. The same blurring comes in the split between domesticity and work, particularly when some people are forced, due to limited space, to make work calls or videos with their beds in the background. The pandemic is shifting the nature and safety of domestic space).

Host is not a perfect movie – there were a few too many jump scares for my taste, and I wasn’t sure how the devices and cameras worked in a couple of places. But I’ll be amazed (and delighted) if anyone produces a better zoom movie than this. The film was apparently 12 weeks from conception to delivery to the Shudder channel who commissioned it. Shudder were apparently chosen as they were open to the film being as long or short as it needed to be. It turns out that 55 minutes was just right.

One of the great things about this film was that it wasn’t about the pandemic itself. I’m sure there will be great horror to be made about covid itself – not least how the strange rules for avoiding it, such as staying 2-meters from other people, are the sort of rules that horror works well with. But this film was about something different. In an interview with Rolling Stone, director Rob Savage said:

We were very adamant that it was not a pandemic movie. It was a lockdown movie. It was more about isolation. We wanted to play on was this idea that video conferencing gives you the impression that you’re with people, but actually you get these stark reminders that you’re not, that you never are. You’re very separate. And you’re very isolated. When the characters start to see their friends in trouble, they’re basically just passengers along for the ride and having to watch at a distance. That was more the thing we were interested in.

The film is a reminder of the need for connection. I can’t wait to one day see it in the cinema.

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