Host zoom meeting

‘Host’ Is a Snapshot of Modern Times

When 2020 began, very few people had heard of Zoom. As the year progressed, and due to circumstances many of us will be aware of, it became the go-to tool for socialising over drinks, quizzes, and the odd séance. Furthermore, few could have predicted that one of the year’s best horror movies would be created entirely through Zoom. However, English director Rob Savage’s Host does just that. The filmmaker has helped create a near-perfect snapshot of 2020 through his lockdown-based, 55-minute shocker. In a year that most people tried to forget, Savage unleashed an unforgettable movie.

Host is the story of 2020. During the lockdown, a group of friends have a Zoom call. Perhaps there has been one Zoom call too many and quizzes aren’t doing the job any more. The host of this particular Zoom call is Haley (Haley Bishop), who has gathered a group of her friends to perform a séance over the platform, hiring the medium Seylan (Seylan Baxter) to guide them through. Predictably, things don’t go great.

It all started as a prank. Much like Hayley, the world of Zoom quizzes and Netflix parties weren’t quite cutting it for director Rob Savage anymore. Having recently moved into a new flat, he felt he could hear strange noises coming from an upstairs attic. After a brief investigation, nothing sinister was found but a plan formed in his head. Reminding him of a scene in Rec (2007), the Spanish found-footage classic in which a similar attic investigation leads to a first-person zombie attack, Savage invited his friends to a Zoom call for their support while he investigated the attic. Using his phone to show his friends the attic, he sneakily cuts to the scene in Rec before cutting back to his own legs falling to the ground. The screams and looks on their faces are priceless. One friend remarks, “That is incredible! How did you do that?”

The internet agreed. After putting footage of his “attack” on Twitter, the clip went viral. TV companies got in touch asking if there was a longer version of this footage. Savage’s friend Jed Shepherd, who would soon become a Host producer, sent him a text saying only two words: “Zoom séance,” The director found a backer in the horror streaming service Shudder, who allowed them the freedom to create the movie as they went so they could get it to audiences as quickly as possible.

What followed was 12 weeks of lockdown guerrilla filmmaking with Savage gathering familiar faces from his prank video and enlisting them as one person production teams from their own homes. They worked from a 17-page outline while they filmed the movie chronologically, trying out different ideas as they went. The actors rigged their own lighting and sound with Savage instructing them to invent something creepy to happen in their home, leading to some homemade stunt work. Stunt group Lucky 13 came on board for some more complex scenes and camera trickery, finding parts of the performers’ houses that they edited together with the stunt performers and actors. The turnaround was quite incredible. Savage’s original tweet was put up on April 21. Host premiered on Shudder on July 30.

Host joins the list of a well-worn genre: the found footage film. A genre that has continuously found itself to be successful, popular, and profitable, while enjoying a rejuvenation every once in a while. Host follows in the footsteps of the recent wave of internet-centric found footage films, where the action unfolds over a computer screen. Check out the Unfriended movies and Searching (2018) for other examples.

Savage‘s chiller plays with the similar ideas that were so effective in the original Paranormal Activity. The camera lingers on the screen, causing our own minds to wonder what we could see. Did we really just witness some spookery in the background? Was that light there a minute ago? If you really want to dedicate to Host, you should watch one of the call screens during each viewing. Maybe there is something in the background. Savage himself has said that one of the most complex shots they undertook has been witnessed by very few. Once you spy it, it is worth it.

Host does what so many of the great horror movies do: take what we know, what we are comfortable with, and make it terrifying. For so many people in 2020, forced to stay indoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom became what we know. A new way of life and contact. With all usual social contact out the window, we had to turn to technology to keep company with our friends and family. But with Host, when things go wrong, the realisation for the characters is that even though they are in the company of their friends, they are very much alone.

Savage resisted the urge to put COVID-19 at the forefront of his movie. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Savage said: “We were very adamant it was not a pandemic movie. It was a lockdown movie. It was more about isolation.” When the pandemic is brought up it is kept purely in the background, but looked at in such a human manner. As Radina Drandova makes her entrance in the film, she lets out a cough and the other girls react in a way that can only be described as very 2020. Hayley remarks, “You have to hide a cough with a fart now instead of the other way round.” It is the only context and reminder we need of the pandemic.

Host instead focuses on the human side of the pandemic, the fact that people are alone, or instead, couples that have been forced to move in together too quickly due to the lockdown. There are two of those here, one going through the tension of moving in too quickly and having a muted argument as their friends look on, the other having the time of his life in his girlfriend’s massive house, unbeknownst to him that he almost caught his friends criticising their relationship.

These human moments are successful Host. The cast has a natural chemistry that makes this seem real, convincing us that we are spectators of their Zoom call. It is this natural chemistry that makes the film so watchable and ultimately makes us care about what will happen to these people. We cringe with Hayley as the others decide to take a shot every time the medium mentions the “astral plane” and recognise the friends that we have; the one that won’t take it seriously, or the one who just has to mess around with the filters, which leads to one of the film’s stand out scary moments. But for the most part, it is just that feeling of isolation in lockdown that will resonate with people. The relief of seeing one of your friends in person and sharing the most 2020 of greetings, the elbow bump.

With the success of Host, it already has people clamouring for more and wondering if a sequel could ever be a possibility. Yet the film itself feels like a one-off. A movie so good and so timely that it could never be repeated and anyone else’s attempt to replicate the formula is already too late. 2020 is thankfully over. Hopefully, we can bump elbows with our loved ones soon enough. As for Savage himself, his snapshot of 2020 has led to a three-movie deal with Blumhouse and a whole lot of excited people wondering what he can do next. Not bad for a lockdown prank.

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