Host Review

A group of friends gather online during lockdown to attempt a seance over video-conference-call app Zoom, led by a mysterious Irish medium. When a drinking game leads to some of the gang accidentally “disrespecting” the spirits, the pandemic quickly becomes the least of their worries…

by Al Horner |
Updated on
Release Date:

31 Jul 2020

Original Title:


As we’ve all learned in lockdown, Zoom calls can be pretty hellish. It’s not connection issues or a family quiz stretching on for eternity that’s the problem in Rob Savage’s Host, however: shot remotely during the coronavirus crisis, this Shudder Original horror is a seance story for the Stay At Home generation, pitting six quarantined friends against a demonic presence who invades their houses after a Zoom conference goes spectacularly wrong. The good news is that the time you accidentally turned your camera on during a check-in with your boss, revealing yourself to be still in your pyjamas at four in the afternoon, covered in Doritos crumbs and regret, will suddenly seem small-fry compared to the remote-video-call catastrophe here. The bad news is, you might not sleep for weeks after it.

The film wastes no time in introducing you to its convincing cast of characters: a group of university friends who, presumably bored of baking banana bread, decide to pass the time by summoning the dead instead. There’s laughter before you’re sent leaping behind the sofa: Host takes its time setting up the gang’s friendships and lockdown situations, even squeezing in a joke about etiquette in the pandemic era (you used to have to cough to cover up a fart; now it’s the other way round, one character bemoans). When Scottish spiritualist Seylan (Seylan Baxter) joins them to begin the seance, a drinking game involving a shot every time Seylan says “astral plane” leaves some in fits of giggles as the door to the spirit-world is creaked open. Turns out, the spirit-world by and large prefers not having the piss taken out of it, and responds in due course.

For every element that borders on cliché, though, there’s another that’s brave and new.

Host was in some ways inevitable. Over the last few years, “desktop movies” – films like Unfriended and Aneesh Chaganty’s elegant thriller Searching – have told feature-length stories entirely through computer screens, with characters hopping between apps to communicate and solve mysteries. Until this year, the genre has been something of a curio: a comment on and reflection of our screen-obsessed culture, usually bordering on gimmickry. The pandemic, and all its accompanying safety challenges for filmmakers, especially those on a tighter budget, may well make desktop movies into a booming new part of our post-corona movie landscape.

What wasn’t inevitable, however, was the level of ingenuity packed into Savage’s own lean, mean desktop film. There are story beats we’ve seen before, of course: strange sounds and bumps in the night, characters and viewers straining alike to determine which are real and which are run-of-the-mill interruptions you often hear on video calls. One character’s decision to throw flour around her flat to reveal the footsteps of an invisible intruder might ring familiar, too. (Some might call this the most unrealistic part of the film; doesn’t she know how hard it is to get flour on your Sainsbury’s shop in lockdown?!?)

For every element that borders on cliché, though, there’s another that’s brave and new. Zoom’s ability to create your own background is smartly weaponised by the director, before a moment involving the app’s face filter function that’s as traumatising as it is innovative. Host is not hugely sophisticated, but it doesn’t need to be: instead, it pummels its way through 56 visceral minutes of jolts and jump scares that will have you zooming for your nearest light switch. The first proper film of our age of coronavirus is here, and it’s a devilishly original success: a pandemic-era Poltergeist that points to a bright future for both Savage and remotely shot cinema.

An adrenaline-spiking fresh take on a well-worn horror format, Host transcends its high-concept premise to deliver original ideas — and scream-worthy surprises.
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