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Review: HOST – A SHUDDER Original

Written by: Victoria Alexander | August 11th, 2020

Film Image: HOST
Film Image: HOST

During an online séance, six friends accidentally invite the attention of a demonic presence. Don’t you hate when that happens?

I had never heard of Zoom, the to-go for teleconferencing, telecommuting, distance education, and social relations before the pandemic. Zoom has transformed itself with Zoom Parties, Zoom Business Meetings and Zoom Happy Hours. What intrigued me was the Zoom Fitness Classes: Mandy’s Barefoot Bootcamp!” Then, a yoga teacher I know sent an email in a panic: “WARNING. We’ve been Zoom Bombed! Someone got the code and has hacked our yoga class with dirty pictures and offensive language – it’s not our fault! Please bear with us and this will be corrected shortly. Thank you for your understanding and, again, we’re sorry!”
Bad things do happen on Zoom. “Zoom-bombed” has entered our consciousness.

That is the basis of HOST, an original film from Shudder, the streaming service devoted to horror movies which I lovingly think of as “the Netflix of Horror.” It is probably the first film made and released during our current pandemic and the first Zoom-based horror movie.

HOST shares similarities with the 2018 film UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB, where the camera’s P.O.V. is a computer/smartphone of characters making “selfie videos.” In HOST, five attractive college-age girls, led by Haley (Haley Bishop), unleash supernatural forces that results in some gruesome online deaths.

The girls, burdened by pandemic boredom, go on a Zoom Chat Room and hire a medium, Seylan (Seylan Baxter) to lead them in a séance. Seylan tells the girls, “There’s no reason why a spirit can’t communicate with us over the Internet. We could all be the channel of communication, we could all be possessed. Don’t be scared by that word. That just means that the spirit is communicating through us. It’s called possessed, but that doesn’t have to be a negative thing.”

Famous last words.

Zoom has replaced the creepy VHS tape left in a cabin.

Director Rob Savage co-wrote HOST with Gemma Hurley. It has all the necessary tropes for horror movies: forced isolation, a young, good looking cast and sloppy deaths.

Bad things can happen when you fool around with the supernatural. Remember Chain Letters? They were actual letters sent to mailboxes with a note saying something like, “mail 10 copies of this letter to 10  people or bad things will happen to you!” No ransom money was demanded.

In this WiFi age we don’t get letters anymore but the Chain Letter meme continues anew with emails and texts and with same punishment if the chain is broken.

HOST sets up a similar premise: you don’t actually have to be in the same room with your friends hovering around a Ouija board to summon spirits – you can do it on any of your devices instead! As soon as Seylan the Medium gives her “this-is-totally-safe” disclaimer, she mysteriously disappears. What  started off as a friendly, ‘I’m-not-taking-this-seriously’ game of find-the-spirit unleashes a terror on the girls. They are dragged backwards in their chairs and lights flicker on-and-off (a horror movie stronghold). The two guys who wander through HOST, Alan (Alan Emery) is set on fire and Teddy (Edward Lenard) is thrown in the air and hovers EXORCIST-style.

There is lots and lots of screaming and brutal spirit-killing.

There are many realistic – and satisfying – jump-scare moments in HOST. In one of the film’s best, and creepiest kills, a girl bashes her head into her computer. As the Zoom screen flickers she’s then seen casually walking around her room, as if getting ready for bed. Is she dead or alive? Is an invisible ghost messing with the girl or is the girl doing it to herself? Is the HOST messing with us?

HOST is THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT for millennials. Gone are the days of hiking with your backpack and eating granola in the woods with your camera crew looking for evil spirits. Now it’s as easy as the click of your mouse.

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Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com. For a complete list of Victoria Alexander's movie reviews on Rotten Tomatoes go to: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/victoria-alexander/movies. Victoria Alexander contributes to Films in Review (http://www.filmsinreview.com), Film Festival Today (http://filmfestivaltoday.com) and Las Vegas Informer (LVInformer.com).

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