Back in 2018, there seemed to be a new wave of experimental filmmaking on the rise: films taking place entirely within a computer. While the concept of “shooting” a film entirely on a computer wasn’t a wholly original concept, it was never flushed out until a couple of years ago. The two Unfriended movies, as well as Searching, had attempted to pull the “computer movie” concept forward in the past yet wasn’t replicated in the mainstream. Despite the relative success of each of those films, the computer-screen genre faded away, with only a small number of indie films attempting to pull the idea further. Now, in an age where we responsible types have mostly stayed indoors and have had to communicate primarily by online video calls, the time has never been better to capitalize on the computer-screen genre.
Shudder’s Host (not a particularly original title, I must say) attempts to bring the spooks to “the quarantine generation” by presenting us with a scary Zoom call during lockdown. Dying of boredom and needing something to do, a small group of friends assemble their weekly video call together and invite a Medium for fun. Things inevitably go sour fast when one of the friends makes an obvious mockery of the whole ordeal, summoning an evil spirit instead of anyone they’d wish to contact; from there, death and jump-scares ensue.
I’m sad to report that Host doesn’t offer up a ton to talk about, because there isn’t a whole lot of meat on its bone. You’re getting exactly what you expect from Host: a cavalcade of loud noises and grizzly death, a staple of the modern horror circuit. Now, my idea of a good time with a horror movie doesn’t consist of foreshadowing so on the nose, it’s digging into your skull, a complete lack of any real tension, and having the movie yell “boo” at me every thirty-seconds to two-minutes, but I understand that’s many people’s bread and butter; don’t let my distaste for this film ruin any enjoyment you may have from it. I’m disappointed, if not all-too surprised that Host takes the easy route for horror with a lack of any tension-building paired with ceaseless, stale jump-scares, but it’s the prime example of the dime-a-dozen formulas that have ran rampant across horror for decades. Host lacks a lot of key elements to make a strong horror movie, that being strong leads to root for, a proper sense of tension escalation, and pacing out the narrative as to not rush things too fast, or slow it down so much the viewing experience is a slog; Host’s narrative flies by at a mile a minute, never giving any time for proper character development or establishing a compelling narrative, and once again, falls into the usual trap of modern horror tropes to backend the film.
Although Host doesn’t do much particularly well (at least the runtime is short), it’s interesting to see our very first feature-length film written and shot during the COVID pandemic; characters often reference having to stay indoors, openly reference the Coronavirus, and even wear masks when going outdoors. While cool that Host marks as our first topical film during the worst year most of us have lived through, the extremely short production time had raised several red flags for me. These red flags were unfortunately confirmed when beginning to watch the film; Host has “rushed” written all over it, with its paint-by-numbers design and extremely weak characters.
The only other points I’d say Host really gets is the almost entirely female cast. Besides one man with a smaller speaking role, and another briefly seen in the background, Host’s cast is only made up of women. It’s a shame that the characters never have much to do other than staring at a camera and get terrified by the ghost, but the gesture is appreciated, nevertheless. Horror has usually been a rather substantial genre for women to be represented and given rather strong roles. I wouldn’t consider any of the roles within Host to be “strong” in the slightest, but per the subject matter that’s on display, it makes sense. It would admittedly be a bit strange to have a “hero” in a movie like this.
Host can be easily summed up in one word: dull. Host isn’t trying anything you haven’t seen before, and only justifies a viewing if you’re starved for content or have any curiosity on how COVID is discussed on film for the first time. If you’re generally on board for the more milk toast brand of horror films, don’t let me stop you, give it a try. Host is currently streaming on Shudder. If you haven’t subscribed to Shudder, yet, you can start a seven-day free trial.