“Host” (2020): A simple concept executed remarkably well

A horror movie that captures the zeitgeist without pandering

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Image Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

Max Vetter, Entertainment Reporter

Rob Savage’s “Host” has no right being as good as it is. This movie has all of the hallmarks of a bad movie: low production value, a hook that relies on current trends, and a found-footage style horror movie made in the 2010s; it’s not perfect, like most low budget horror movies made in less than three months, but the artistry throughout elevates this over most schlocky horror flicks.

“Host” centers around a couple of friends who are holding a virtual séance over Zoom during the current lockdown. It’s told exclusively through the screen of Haley, who seems to be the only American in a group of British friends. The ritual goes wrong, but rather than delivering surprising plot points, “Host” relies on very strong characters and atmosphere. Each character is very well realized through a mix of clever writing and improvisation. Each person really does feel like a person, and set-ups near the beginning cleverly foreshadow each of their inevitable demises, without being too obvious.

The film also has a very strong structure to carry along its limited scope. This begins with the movie’s biggest attribute: the runtime. Since the main character is having a group call with the free version of Zoom, her call can only last a limited time, which means that the film clocks in at less than an hour-long (though her call lasts a bit over 50 minutes, which isn’t possible). This brevity is key, because while I certainly enjoyed the movie, if it went on for too much longer, it would start to drag. Additionally, “Host” immediately introduces its characters and their dynamics with each other. One of my favorite details is how even a minor character like Radina has moved in with her boyfriend for the lockdown, and they kind of hate each other. This actually informs her dynamics with the other people on the call and plays into the scares later on.

I was also surprised by the technical competence of the film. Since traditional rules of composition were off the table, the filmmakers and actors had to get creative when getting new shots. Barring a few strange cases where characters feel the need to point their cameras where they’re going as opposed to at their faces, each character movement does a good job changing up the scenery and opening up new opportunities for scares. I was even shocked by some good framing at points, where objects in the foreground created frames within frames to heighten the tension. Additionally, even though it sometimes broke the immersion, the movie was also pretty well-edited, utilizing the highlight feature on Zoom to accentuate certain people or hide information from the audience.

Of course, I can’t discuss a horror movie without talking about its scares, and I’m happy to say that they’re mostly effective! Unlike a lot of horror films, “Host” refrains from constant jump scares and loud sounds, and opts for more subtle horror elements. Chairs will move, glass will break, people will feel things when they shouldn’t. Starting with stuff like this and building up to bigger setpieces is essential to a good supernatural horror, and “Host” does this very well. The scary moments are also helped by exceptional effects work, which lead to some remarkably complicated sequences that I’m still thinking about. What helps the effects work so well is likely the sparing use of them, the low-resolution footage, and most importantly, good lighting. It’s incredible how much good lighting can enhance a special effect! That’s the reason why “Justice League” looks like hot garbage and “Blade Runner 2049” is one of the best looking movies ever made, even though they both came out in 2017! The movie is consistently low lit, which lets the effects team hide the scares in the shadows, which contributes to the constant dread of the second half.

This movie is far from perfect, mostly due to the last five minutes falling into a lot of horror cliches, but it’s certainly a unique experience. It’s really refreshing to see a movie that capitalizes on the trends of the younger generation without being a storm of emojis, LMAOs, and “Ha ha, TikTok”’s. This is a genuinely interesting horror movie that I can only recommend watching on a computer screen, because seeing it in theaters is both impossible and immersion breaking. I could only see this film being made now, and I don’t ever want to see anything like this again. Go see it.