By Nadia Dalimonte
Emma Louise Webb, Caroline Ward, Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, and Radina Drandova in Host (2020)
With a compact runtime of 56 minutes, Host is one of the more effective horror genre films to come out in recent years. The film was made during the COVID pandemic, which gives it a resonating specificity and adds a layer of uneasiness to an already troubling story that takes place entirely on a Zoom call. The story follows six friends who hire a medium to hold an online séance during lockdown, but their call takes a dark turn when an evil spirit invades their homes.
Cyber horror films are very much a sign of the times, as our dependency on technology in everyday life is on the rise. Host, a narrative that takes place using computer and screens, evokes a nearly claustrophobic feeling as the characters are confined to one kind of setting. With such close proximity to the people on screen, from beginning to end, the performances can make or break this immersive experience. One of the biggest triumphs of Host is how good the acting is all around. Each performer creates a believable sense of fear slowly washing over them as the film progresses. The cast make it incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and watch in horror as the characters struggle to overcome a spirit so unsparingly evil.
Another great accomplishment, the most impressive one, is how this film manages to fuel a genuinely scary and chilling narrative that gets the job done in less than an hour. Once the setting is established and the horror kicks in, the thrills are steady. The sense of utter hopelessness is palpable in each pixelated frame, as the characters are limited to where they can go in a pandemic. There is nowhere they can safely escape to at the drop of a hat. The confined spaces raise the stakes as the demonic spirit becomes increasingly ruthless in response to a disrespectful invitation, which the medium strongly warned everyone from the start to avoid doing.
Clocking in with a short runtime, and made with a tiny budget, Host is a fully realized nightmarish séance story that never loses tension. The direction is wicked and succeeds at leaving behind an on-edge afterthought, made more effective when watching on a computer screen. While the film falls into some traps of characters doing questionable things, the strong cast help build an effective atmosphere that is scarily relevant and enjoyable to watch.