Review: 'Host'

At first glance, the idea of a horror film that centers around a Zoom call gone wrong during a pandemic might seem like a bad idea. How much can actually happen when all of your characters are tied into a communal video call? And given the visual constraints, can the movie maintain any reasonable level of suspense?

The answer to all of those questions is yes, at least when you are talking about the new Shudder original "Host," which premieres on July 30th. The hour-long thriller evolved from a two-minute video director Rob Savage posted to YouTube just as the pandemic began. The video showed a Zoom call that had a truly scary twist to it and besides going viral, the video also attracted the attention of Shudder general manager Craig Engler, who ordered up a full-length feature.

"Host" follows the story of six friends who somehow decide that doing a a séance over Zoom is a smart idea. One of the friends knows a medium who promises to help and before you know it, they've apparently attracted the attention of an evil spirit. It's one of those ideas that in lesser hands would be flat and utterly predictable. But Savage knows how to craft a tightly-edited thrill-fest and manages to include homages to a number of well-known horror movies as he quickly works his way through the story.

The cast is first-rate, which helps a great deal, since much of the first half of the film is the gentle lead-up to the encounter. Haley Bishop, Radina Drandova, Edward Linard, Jemma Moore, Caroline Ward and Emma Louise Webb all have their moments and it's even more impressive considering that thanks to the pandemic, the actors had to not only do their own camerawork, but also help set up the effects.

My biggest concern going into this was whether the artifice of a Zoom call would make "Host" seem too confined or visually uninteresting. But Savage does an excellent job of using the limitations of a Zoom call to his advantage and in fact in some cases, the limitations of a video call make the scares of a jump cut scene even more intense.

It's difficult to say much about the storyline without spoiling things, but I can tell you that are a number of genuine scares and unexpected moments. And while the film is short, its compactness is a smart creative choice. "Host" is just the right length, which is not always the case in the horror genre.

If you love an efficient scare or just want confirmation that Zoom calls can lead to bad things, "Host" is well worth watching. It's fun and frightening and one of the best ways you can spend an hour this weekend.

"Host" premieres Thursday, July 30th, 2020 on the streaming service Shudder.