Host tells the story of the Zoom meeting from Hell.
Actually, that description is a case of me being a bit too glib. Though this hour-long film, which can currently be viewed on Shudder, has received a lot of attention for its Zoom call format, there’s a good deal more going on in Host. It’s the first film of the COVID-19 era and, when this era finally ends, it’s a film that will remind viewers of what it was like to be locked down and afraid that, even behind closed door and with a mask ready to go, there was truly no escape from the virus.
Host is a British film about six friends, one psychic medium, and one very destructive spirit. Locked down due to COVID, the friends have weekly Zoom meetings. Some of them drink wine during the meetings. One of them smokes a good deal of weed. The important thing that they’re staying in contact and not allowing the separation to drive them apart. As so many others have done over the course of 2020, they’ve tried to find some sort of normalcy in a situation that is anything but. Even though the viewer only spends an hour with these characters, it’s impossible not to relate to what they’re going through.
For this week’s meeting, a medium named Seylan (Seylan Baxter) had been hired to lead the friends in an online séance. Everyone has a different reaction to Seylan, which I liked. Jemma (Jemma Moore) seems to be struggling not to laugh as Seylan tells everyone to light their candles. (I related to Jemma, as I probably would have had the same reaction.) Emma (Emma Louise Webb) and Caroline (Caroline Ward) are both obviously taking the séance a bit more seriously and are concerned about what will happen when they contact the other side. Haley (Haley Bishop) tries to keep the group focused while Radina (Radina Drandova) and Teddy (Edward Linard) deal with interruptions from their significant others.
Well, needless to say, the séance doesn’t exactly lead to the best of results. That doesn’t count as a spoiler because first off, this film is on Shudder and secondly, since when has it ever been a good idea to try to contact the dead? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from the movies, it’s that the dead are extremely touchy and prone to violence.
Host makes great use of its format. Every time someone drops out of the meeting, we’re left to wonder if they’ve just temporarily lost their connection or if they’ve been attacked by something from beyond. When we watch the interaction between the six friends — who feel like a group of real friends, though I don’t know how well everyone knew each other before production began — we find ourselves constantly looking over everyone’s shoulder, searching for any sign of an unexpected presence. Sometimes, we think we see something just to then discover that it was just our overactive imagination. Sometimes, we think we something and …. well, we actually do.
Host works because it’s a horror film to which everyone can relate. It gets to a truth that gets beyond the usual horror movie mechanics. There’s an interesting scene where one of the zoom participants is forced to flee from her flat. Even with an evil presence chasing her, she still makes sure to mask up before leaving. If it’s not the demons waiting to get you while you’re in quarantine, it’s the COVID waiting to get you as soon as you exit. The greatest fear that many people have had over the past few months is that, even if you isolate and wear your mask and stay inside, the disease is still going to somehow get you. Much like a demon from the other side, the coronavirus can’t be seen but it could be anywhere. The evil spirit in Host is not named COVID but it might as well be.