An obligatory lockdown-based horror movie has arrived with the tedious inevitability of a weekly Zoom quiz, recorded entirely over video call during the first quarantine. Directed by British filmmaker Rob Savage, Host follows a group of millennials who’ve moved on from baking bread to channelling the dead. Haley (Haley Bishop) invites her friends to take part in an online seance and before you know it, a demon is waiting to join the meeting.
Ghosts are traditionally localised by definition, haunting a specific location or object, but this one has harnessed the power of video-conferencing software – presumably Microsoft Screams. The fact that the cast are friends in real life gives their performances a natural quality and the movie a deceptive looseness, even though it’s actually been cleverly constructed, with the practical effects set up by the actors in their own homes. What it doesn’t have (apart from a cinematographer) is a plot. The feature quickly descends into the usual combination of low-resolution shaky-cam and no-resolution narrative.
Unfortunately for a film that tries to capture our unparalleled present, this style already feels outdated – and for anyone used to professional Zoom calls, a little like work. Host is the latest offering in the sub-genre known as Screenlife, though since it’s based on quite specific internet gimmickry, Shelflife might be more appropriate. 2014’s Unfriended pioneered the form, displaying for the first time the way young people socialise online. It was layered with enough playful twists and turns to keep the simple premise interesting for 90 minutes.
Host comes in under an hour and fails to encapsulate our current state of paranoia because it has nothing to do with the frightening part of lockdown, which is obviously the deadly virus. Instead, it uses the hackneyed and unlikely conceit of a seance with all the usual tricks and tropes. The effect of scary faces jumping at viewers was tired even before Paranormal Activity, and the inclusion of a spooky polaroid camera seems particularly contrived considering the existence of a screenshot function.
Ultimately the Screenlife genre is an extension of the found footage trope. While limiting what the audience sees can be effective, its limits on story and characterisation can render a film weaker and more frustrating than a dodgy internet connection. In the case of Host, what could have been an uncanny Blair Glitch exercise in viral terror ends up feeling like a hack.
Host is released digitally on demand on 4th December 2020.
Watch the trailer for Host here: