Review of timely horror movie, ‘Host’ set amidst the pandemic

June 24, 2021 Mario Bautista 273 views

WE love watching horror flicks but lately, we got to see nothing but disappointing flicks that are not really scary but annoying. So when we read Time Magazine’s write up on a horror film called “Host” (to be distinguished from so many other films titled “The Host”), our curiosity was piqued.

Time says it is “not only one of the best horror movies of the year, but also an intimate look at creativity, film production and a shared global culture in the throes of a rampaging virus.” The film is structured like one long zoom meeting and runs only for one hour. What you’d see on screen are the computer screens of the various characters participating in the zoom video call.

This started as a short prank film by Director Rob Savage that went viral on social media so he developed the original idea. He made it into an hour-length film, originally shown on the popular horror channel, Shudder, and now also available on Amazon Prime VOD. It got universally positive reviews.

Set during the Covid 19 virus pandemic, a group of about six friends have maintained communication by holding weekly zoom meetings. On this particular night, they have decided to hold an online seance and Haley (Haley Bishop) has invited a medium, Seylan (Seylan Baxter), to lead them. The other actors also use their real names: Jemma Moore, Emma Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, except for Teddy whose real name is Edward Linard.

Before the seance can actually start, Teddy had to leave as his girlfriend asks him to do something outside, so we his screen computer going off. As the seance go on, Jemma says she is able to contact a dead friend who killed himself, but it turns out she is just playing a prank on her friends.

But soon, they actually start experiencing some strange and scary incidents like chairs being pulled, glass being broken. The medium tells them that Jemma’s prank could have have a negative effect and called on the presence of a satanic spirit who seems to be deliberately taking over their seance.

Things get worse as someone smashed Caroline’s face right on the computer camera. They can see shadows on each other’s screen, indicating the presence of outside spirits. Emma sprinkles flour on the floor and she can see the footprints of the spirit who is with her. Teddy returns to the meeting but a spirit attacks him.

The malevolent presence gets more and more violent and supernatural phenomena abound. The participants start blaming each other for doing the seance and that’s about as far as we’ll reveal to you since spilling more will surely be a spoiler. The concept of a seance going wrong is nothing new. It’s just been used in “Seance”, which we also reviewed recently. It showed the characters being spooked while playing with the ouija board.

But the idea of a horror flick happening during a zoom meeting in this pandemic is no doubt very ingeniously conceived. Horror enthusiasts will surely find it different from other current scary flicks. The problem now is how well is it executed.

There have been other found footage films before taking place on computer screens, like the teen slasher flick happening on webcam, “Unfriended” (2015), that was successful so it had a sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web” in 2018; the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, “Sickhouse” (2016, released on Snapchat) and “Searching” (2018, with John Cho as an Asian dad looking for his missing daughter.)

“Searching” is the best in the genre as it’s well-produced and an effective whodunit with various locations and an engaging twist in the story. Its use of computer screens in telling its story makes the events portrayed frighteningly real. In comparison, “Host” is apparently produced on a limited budget and it shows.

As a movie made about and happening during the actual lockdown or quarantine, it will no doubt give you the creeps specially if you’re already suffering from dread and anxiety due to the virus. But you have to willingly suspend your disbelief because, admit it or not, it’s still a lot of nonsense. Some of the jump scares do work, but there are many scenes where we wish they would just turn on the lights.

Here, the virus is not the villain or the monster, but a supernatural presence that is no doubt exacerbated by the pandemic quarantine that has traumatized some people not used to a claustrophobic kind of existence. As the situations portrayed in the film get from bad to worse, honestly, we cannot sympathize with the dumb characters who just got more than what they bargained for.

In my mind, we’re telling them: “Ginusto nyo yan no? Serves you right!!!!” At one point, we felt bored as it’s quite slow moving and nothing is really happening in its confined setting for a while. Sorry to all those who praised it but this lame pandemic-fueled laptop horror flick just didn’t work for us.

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