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‘Host’ Ushers Paranormal Horror into a New Era

Gripping and well-executed, Host marks the beginning of countless pandemic movies to come. It feels fitting that it’s a horror film.

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The cast of Host (2020)

From the very first frame, Host uses the pandemic as a story device instead of a limitation.

When Host first starts, it takes a second to register that these characters exist in the present year. The one where murder hornets run rampant and a global pandemic has radically overhauled the way humans live and breathe. It is both a refreshing and terrifying, break from media produced pre-pandemic. 

From the very first frame, Host uses the pandemic as a story device instead of a limitation. The plot entirely unfolds over a Zoom call as friends gather for a seance. Haley (Haley Bishop) brings in a medium (Seylan Baxter) to lead the virtual ceremony, begging her friends to take it seriously.

Emma, Caroline, Jemma, Radina, and Haley in Host (2020)

Of course, horror movie rules are meant to be broken. It’s not long before Haley’s best friend Jemma (Jemma Moore) pokes fun at the ceremony. Seemingly terrified, Jemma clutches at her throat and fabricates the death of a classmate. Worry soon evaporates into giggles as Jemma lets the others in on the prank. But Haley isn’t pleased. And neither are the spirits they’ve summoned.

In the horror genre, seances go awry with such frequency that it could easily feel like an echo of better-told stories. But Host never falls flat. Originally intended as a short film, director Rob Savage stretched the horror flick into a breathless 55-minute feature. Tightly wound, the thriller allows for brief moments of calm and continues to tick away towards a bone-chilling climax without overstaying its welcome.  

It ticks away towards a bone-chilling climax without overstaying its welcome. 

Host wouldn’t be the same if it existed outside of the confines of a video call. The film cleverly utilizes elements specific to that medium to its advantage. The looping greenscreens, muted participants, and augmented reality filters all feel like a worthy addition rather than a distraction. The very fact that the seance takes place over Zoom diffuses the initial tension as the friends sit down in their separate homes. And even as wine glasses shatter and attics creak, characters continue to write off ghostly encounters with disbelief. As the tension ratchets up pixel by pixel, that same disbelief shifts into pure terror. 

Host pulls off a number of well-earned gasps until its bloody end. 

Low-budget indie horror is a staple of Shudder, the streaming service that produced and released Host. The relatively unknown cast, paired with a simple but cutting script, show the best of what indie horror can offer. And better yet, the production and special effects never feel confined by its budget. It’s rare to make a jump scare these days that can really catch viewers off guard. But Host pulls off a number of well-earned gasps until its bloody end. 

Emma, Caroline, Haley, Jemma, and Radina in Host (2020)


There is no shortage of films intended for an alternate 2020, from The Beach House to The Old Guard. Filmed before coronavirus, they show actors clinking drinks and locked in hand to hand combat. And they were all made with the expectation that viewers would watch them in a theater, sitting shoulder to shoulder. They make for a nice escape, but they don’t feel like an accurate reflection of what everyday life has become.

In Host, the pandemic is central to the conflict of the story. Friends don masks before entering each other’s homes, even as demonic spirits bear down on their necks. Gripping and well-executed, Host marks the beginning of countless pandemic movies to come. It feels fitting that it’s a horror film.

Meghan Cook is a comedy writer currently residing in North Carolina with one cat and fifty shows in her Netflix queue (that she will get to eventually).

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