*. In my notes on Searching I raised an eyebrow at the new genre of “computer-screen film.” I shouldn’t have been surprised about this development though, as so much of our time is spent staring into screens these days, and a lot of the look of such movies is a pretty natural development from the found-footage genre.
*. Enter COVID-19 in 2020, and a prolonged lockdown, and a Zoom-movie was pretty much inevitable as the next step. So much so that the creators here (director Rob Savage and co-writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley) wanted to move quickly before anyone else struck (as they eventually would). Luckily, such a concept doesn’t take a whole lot of production (the actors came up with their own stunts), and with only an hour to fill they were able to get it all wrapped up in only twelve weeks.
*. The idea here is that a group of young people hold a séance online and a real demon is accidentally summoned. This leads to the usual scary hijinks. And when I say “the usual” I really mean it. There is nothing here that hasn’t been seen many times before. There’s a trip to investigate some bumping noises in the attic (this was the original germ of the film, a staged bit of foolery that Savage did on a group chat that became a viral joke). There are people being dragged screaming backwards. There are footprints appearing in flour thrown on the floor. There’s the demon revealed by the use of a camera flash in a dark hallway. (And if you’re wondering why Haley doesn’t use a flashlight or her phone’s flashlight function instead of the flashbulbs in her camera . . . well, I’m not the one to ask.)
*. Basically Host draws on the whole found-footage tradition, from The Blair Witch Project to Paranormal Activity. The fact that it’s a Zoom meeting is the only curve, and even that isn’t all that new as there’d been horror films before that made use of video chats going awry.
*. That said, I liked Host. It doesn’t do anything new, but what it does do it does well. The cast in particular really stand out. Haley Bishop and Jemma Moore (as Haley and Jemma respectively) are excellent at showing a sense of growing concern. I particularly like the way Jemma pulls her hoodie up as though she’s in bed pulling a sheet over her head. That’s a nice bit of business. And everyone sells their part only using their faces. Not a lot of space for body acting in a Zoom movie!
*. I don’t know how much of the script was improvised. But when the gang tell the girl going into the attic that “we’re right here,” meaning right here online watching her, it struck me as unintentionally comic. That’s not a big help! And every found-footage or shaky-cam movie has the same problem that arrives with the point in the movie where you have to ask “why are they still filming this?” but here it gets taken to a bit of an extreme as the girls carry their laptops around with them everywhere.
*. You know the jump scares are coming, but they still work. And in fact everything here works pretty well. I only wish there’d been a bit more wit and invention. The end credits are perhaps the cleverest I’ve ever seen, and made me wish they’d come up with some more interesting stuff in the rest of the film. But I can’t knock Host for doing what it sets out to do quite effectively. It doesn’t break any ground, or have anything at all to say about the experience of lockdown, but it’s a nice little scary movie to watch on your tablet in the dark.