Horror movies reflect the fears of the cultural moment in which they're made, but it's not usually as direct as it is with Host, a new movie that's available to stream on horror-focused streaming service Shudder. Host, which premiered Thursday, July 30, was shot and produced remotely while under quarantine, and it takes place entirely on Zoom, the video chat app that's become the essential mode of communication for work and keeping in touch with groups of friends. It's not the first Zoom-made thing, but it's one of the best, and is of the COVID-19 moment to a remarkable degree.
The film was directed by rising British filmmaker Rob Savage, who wrote the script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd; Savage and Shepherd also executive-produced. It's about a group of friends who gather over Zoom while under quarantine at their respective homes to have a seance, led by a medium named Seylan (Seylan Baxter; the characters' names are the actors', adding to the movie's Paranormal Activity-influenced authenticity). The seance was organized by Haley (Haley Bishop), who wants her friends to take it more seriously than they are. But they just want to hang out, because they all have their own things going on at home. Radina (Radina Drandova) is in a fight with her boyfriend, nobody likes Teddy's (Edward Linard) girlfriend, Haley and Jemma (Jemma Moore) don't really get along. It's all very standard horror movie character setup, and the story is very traditional. The innovation is that when someone accidentally summons a malevolent spirit over Zoom, it materializes in the houses of everyone on the call, not just in a single location.
The really impressive parts of Host are the technical ones. Savage directed the actors remotely, and the actors operated their own cameras, did their own lighting, and helped set up their own practical effects. The effects and stunts are very cool and surprising, and the scares are much more effective than you might expect. Savage uses Zoom's built-in features that we've all become familiar with (customizable backgrounds, face filters, that pesky time limit on the free version) for clever purposes. And it's extremely efficient, wrapping things up in just under an hour. If it were any longer, it wouldn't be as good, because the premise is solid, but it's thin. At this length, it's a lot of killer and very little filler.
In addition to providing jump scares and don't-go-into-the-attic dread, Host taps into the very contemporary fears that the people around you aren't taking the coronavirus as seriously as they should be and will infect you. It's an entertaining outlet for a very real anxiety, like all good horror is. There will be other coronavirus-themed horror shows and movies as production starts back up, but so far, this is the one to measure them against.
Host is available to stream on Shudder.