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  Host Stay Safe!
Year: 2020
Director: Rob Savage
Stars: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Edward Linard, Jinny Lofthouse, Seylan Baxter, Jack Brydon, James Swanton
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Haley (Haley Bishop) has been bored under Lockdown with the Covid-19 crisis unfolding, and so have her friends, but they can stay in touch through their phones, tablets and laptops through the modern miracle of Zoom calls over the internet. She has had a brainwave to bring them all together for the evening, a bit of fun that will entertain them and give them something to take their minds off the current restrictions: a séance, which is apparently possible over the Wi-Fi, though Jemma (Jemma Moore), for one, is sceptical. She goes along with it anyway, as do Haley's four other pals, Emma (Emma Louise Webb), Radina (Radina Drandova), Caroline (Caroline Ward) and Teddy (Edward Linard) - but what if something supernatural were to join them?

It had to happen, with the coronavirus holding the world in its grip and would-be blockbusters either being released in limited methods to cinemas or online at a price hike, or not being released at all and postponed to some vague future date that may or may not take place depending on how well the cures go. With that void in the entertainment sphere, lower budget efforts were able to step in, and director and co-writer (with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd) Rob Savage was one of those to get in early with a project that capitalised on the issues, and as a result had a much-talked about hit. Host lasted just under an hour, so there was a minimum of padding even if it didn't always come across that way, and was much admired for its ingenuity as much as its plotting and effects.

It was a bit of a giggle, much as the joker Jemma character reacts to the séance, designed to be watched on a tablet or laptop or even your phone for maximum effect, as if you were seeing this play out among people you actually knew, or at least had been invited to meet online. That tone of authenticity was its biggest asset as the plotline, never fully explained, went into overdrive with the jump scares and uncanny occurrences when the communicating with the dead accidentally brings in some kind of demonic presence seemingly thanks to the girls not taking the whole matter seriously enough (Teddy has to bow out early, but rejoins later in time to meet something he would not have anticipated - he also makes a joke out of it until it's too late). A lot of how successful this would be was not down to the effects, in fact the casting was crucial, and here was effective.

The performers certainly just about excused the Blair Witch Project problem of why the terrorised would keep on filming throughout their ordeal, no matter how bad things were growing: they wanted to stay in touch with their friends, therefore the easiest way to do that was to give a running commentary, visual as well as verbal, as to what they were up to. This was a very contemporary approach to personal interactions, and you could not argue that it was relatable for probably most of the audience who caught Host; it was also why it felt so current if you watched it during the crisis in a style that something higher budget and slicker would have felt more of a cash-in. If there was an issue, it was the haunting and eventual pseudo-slasher movie developments came across as strictly arbitrary, there was very little resonance beyond the basic "meddling outwith God's domain" business that umpteen cheapo shockers conjured up without feeling the need to explain themselves to any great degree. But you could forgive that when Savage had clearly thought through his setpieces, creating a cheeky, nasty-fun chiller that was best if you didn't know what to expect.

[This Shudder exclusive is in cinemas and on digital 4th Dec 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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