Isolation and quarantine have fostered an environment where online connections are essential. Whether that means holding family reunions over Facebook or work meetings through Google Hangouts, chances are you’ve been fielding cyber-engagements more in the past few months than you’re used to. And a lot of the activities transitioning to an online space are incredibly tempting (who wouldn’t want to watch entire live concerts without needing to change out of pajamas?), but some of them could also lead to less than ideal consequences.
This is the premise of Rob Savage’s Host, exclusively available on horror-streaming platform Shudder. Filmed entirely in quarantine, Host begins with a clique of friends who have decided to spice up a Zoom hangout by hiring a spirit medium. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Someone says something they shouldn’t, the medium senses something that shouldn’t be there, and technical difficulties cut everyone off from seeking help. The call culminates in a full-scale haunting, and none of the six friends (or the people they’re quarantining with) are safe. With a runtime of under an hour and a straightforward premise, it might be a little hard to see where the hype is coming from. But Host uses every last minute to pack in a mix of atmosphere, tension, and quick, heart-stalling scares.
Watched alone, the movie is scary but not overwhelming. There are some good jumps and some standard gore in line with other popcorn or Halloween night horrors—that is, movies you watch just to snack along to and get a couple of frights. But Host comes alive when it’s watched in a group, which is exactly how I experienced it first. Streaming parties are a great alternative to trips to the movies, and a group of my friends have made it a weekly tradition to hang out virtually and watch something new or play a game together. This usually culminates in testing indie horror games or revisiting old classics, because I’m lucky enough to have a friend group that loves the genre as much as I do. The week Host released, we popped into Discord and settled in. Scares that are shocking when watching alone became horrifying with friends, as we talked and yelled and reared back from our screens in unison. We booed and cheered together and for nearly sixty minutes—Host clocks in at just 56—it felt like we were sharing a space, in one room together, candles lit and pillows held close for emotional support.
One of the highlights of Host is its use of Zoom as a format for the film itself, and often more than one actor is on screen at a time, isolated in the little boxes anyone who’s ever used a video call service will be accustomed to. Though my friend group came to an early consensus on who our favorite actor was (Emma, played by Emma Louise Webb, in case you’re curious), we were often all looking at a different actor at any given time. This makes some of the early scares way more effective—one person would see something and announce it to the group, and the person in charge of pausing would desperately rewind until we were all able to see it for ourselves. As with most ensemble horror movies, it’s easy to develop favorites and to pick out who we think is on the chopping block next, and the distinct personalities of Host make that process invigorating. We were wholly and totally invested in seeing who would make it to the end. And the lack of sophisticated tech involved only adds to the atmosphere—there’s something a lot more frightening about laptops being toted into dark rooms, the audience just another member of the Zoom call with no night-vision cameras or high-intensity flashlights to give them a glimpse of what’s going on.
But it’s not just that Host is well-shot, or that its actors make their characters and what they’re experiencing believable, or that it is a feat of coordination to have been shot remotely during quarantine. What makes Host a must-watch (seriously, grab a group of friends watch it ASAP) is that it manages to perfectly encapsulate an energy that’s difficult to describe and would completely and utterly fall apart if watched on anything but a computer, phone, or tablet. It has a sense of isolation and community all at once, as if the viewer is in on this clique that is close-knit despite their physical separation from one another. The quality is gritty and fits right in with standard computer resolutions, and set to full-screen, the interface plays off as if it’s on your screen in a way that just works. It’s also timely in a way that reminds the viewer that a pandemic is happening, but also that not all media during a specific event needs to be about that specific event. Sometimes it can just be quintessential popcorn horror—a group of friends making bad decisions and facing the consequences.
Host is available for streaming now on Shudder. With a 4/5 skull rating on the site and a full 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a prime pick for your next socially-distanced hangout.