Found footage films are a dime a dozen these days and it’s become more and more difficult to find one that’s unique, that changes up the overdone formula, that shy’s away from the shaky-cam style of film-making. Films as far back as The Connection (1961) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980) to more recent films such as 1999’s The Blair Witch Project (that REALLY kick started the found-footage sub genre) and 2008’s Cloverfield, used that sort of ‘raw’, POV style of filming successfully, becoming iconic as well as regular pop-culture staples. Other popular found-footage films chose to use a smoother style of filming which meant film makers had to think outside the box a bit. Films such as Paranormal Activity and District 9 worked into their narrative a reason for the footage to appear smoother, even though they’re still employing the hand-held camera trope. Paranormal Activity’s character, Micah, buys a professional movie camera in order to record disturbances in his home. District 9 is filmed partially as a documentary, partially as news footage and partially as security camera footage, techniques also used to great effect for the outstanding super-hero thriller, Chronicle (2012).
Director Rob Savage, and co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, utilize a unique and what should’ve been a glaringly obvious way to tell a story of demonic terror-verite style! Using the current, and seemingly endless, ongoing pandemic as it’s setting while also addressing the need for quarantine and social distancing, Host opens by introducing us to Haley (Haley Bishop), who’s hired a medium, Seylan (Seylan Baxter), to perform a seance via Zoom for herself and her friends; Jemma (Jemma Moore), Caroline (Caroline Ward), Radina (Radina Drandova), Teddy (Edward Linard) and Emma (Emma Louise Webb). Soon, one of the group proceeds to play a prank on the rest. However, not taking a seance seriously while in the middle of a seance can offend the spirits and instead of summoning the equivalent of Casper the Friendly Ghost, the friends inadvertently invite an evil entity into their lives. With a runtime of just under an hour, I’m extremely hesitant to say anymore regarding the plot. Suffice to say that what transpires is a horrifying and brutal lesson to the characters: don’t trifle with forces you don’t understand!
I’ll admit I had my doubts prior to settling in to watch Host, thinking Zoom was just another cheap gimmick akin to Paranormal Activity 4 (laptop), doubting any ‘real’ terror could be achieved and in an amazingly short amount of time at that! I’m also quick to admit when I’m wrong! While Host does seem to have similarities with films such as Paranormal Activity and The Taking of Deborah Logan (an outstanding film!), I still felt I was experiencing something new due to the use of Zoom technology because, confession time, I’m a bit technologically impaired and know very little about it! Throughout it’s runtime, the creators of Host give us subtle glimpses of the supernatural terror to come…if you’re paying close attention. Due to each character being shown in their own Zoom screen there are five different characters in five different homes that you’re trying to watch at once. Paying attention to each one, watching for something paranormal in each screen, increases the intensity and panic that you feel watching the film. So much so that even as I watched the film, I caught myself looking over my shoulder a time or two! And that’s where the genius of Host really becomes apparent. In an age of endlessly having our faces planted in front of some sort of screen, be it our phone, laptop or TV, Host points out what we really should be paying attention to: our surroundings! Not invoking demons might also be a something you take away from watching the film but who am I to judge?
I truly feel that director Savage and company may have created a new cult classic with Host but, if not, it’s definitely a worthy addition to the found-footage sub-genre and highly recommended!