During last two years, our world has been changed a lot due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and this unfortunate global change certainly has influenced my routine visits to local movie theaters a lot. As I am constantly reminded of wearing mask in public space just like others, the worlds of movie characters feel and look different to me at times because of the glaring absence of masks in their worlds, so I frequently cannot help but a bit distant to whatever is being shown on the screen – especially when I watch movies set in supposedly contemporary backgrounds.
In case of a little British horror film “Host”, that did not happen at all because its background is quite realistic and contemporary to say the least. While this is another usual genre exercise unfolded entirely inside small computer screens, it distinguishes itself a bit as being set in the ongoing pandemic era, and its cast and crew members actually faced a number of limitations as shooting their film in the middle of the lockdown period in UK during last year.
The movie simply presents its story as an extended online video group chat among a young woman named Haley (Haley Bishop) and her several friends during one seemingly “ordinary” evening. As respectively struggling through the ongoing lockdown period in UK, they have been pretty bored without many things to do, and that is why Haley suggested that they should hold an online séance together with some assistance from a middle-aged lady who seems to be an expert of spiritual world.
At first, nothing seems to be wrong as Haley and her friends follow the instructions from that middle-aged lady. Although they are not physically together, they still can hold a séance as long as they all can be serious enough about summoning any soul out there, and they are all ready to be surprised even though they are still not as serious as their invited expert. Anyway, they all light a candle as instructed, and, as they try to gather their will power or whatever, the mood among them becomes a bit solemn for a while.
After a few expected moments of false alarms, Haley and her friends become more relaxed and playful than before, but we already noticed ominous things even before the séance was started. For example, Haley was disturbed for a while as hearing a suspicious sound from somewhere inside her flat, and you surely know too well that this is not a good sign at all, if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me. In case of a certain creepy object brought by one of the characters in the film, it instantly took me back to what Anton Chekhov once said about what will inevitably happen if there is a loaded gun in the first act, and I was not disappointed at all later.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Haley and her friends belatedly come to realize that they inadvertently get themselves thrown into a grim situation which may be way over their heads, but it is still entertaining to watch how the screenplay by director Rob Savage and his co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, which was developed from a short film made by Savage early in last year, gradually develops tension on the screen. Although it is occasionally limited by its stuffy setting, the movie steadily draws more of our attention as diligently delivering one disturbing moment after another along its narrative, and we come to brace ourselves more as wondering more about what may come upon its main characters at any point.
Wisely choosing to show that mysterious source of menace as little as possible till its very last shot, Savage and his crew members skillfully utilize a number of simple but effective special effects during several key moments in the film. For example, I liked an unnerving scene where one of the main characters nervously looks around the dark attic of her residence with her laptop camera, and I also enjoyed one particularly terrifying moment based on a certain visual effect familiar to many of you.
As the movie rolls faster toward its inevitable arrival point, the mood becomes more intense and disturbing with more shock and awe for us, and Haley Bishop and several main cast members deserve to be commended for their believable presentation of accumulating panic and dread. Although their characters are more or less than cardboard figures to be eliminated one by one along the plot, Bishop and her fellow cast members imbue their respective roles with enough life and personality to engage us, and that is the main reason why the movie can still hold our attention even during its very predictable finale.
On the whole, “Host” does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, but it is fairly efficient in developing and then maintaining mood and tension during its relatively short running time (57 minutes), and it is surely one of better horror films I saw during this year in addition to being worthwhile to be remembered as one of the first notable COVID-19 pandemic era movies. While I might not be scared a lot during my viewing, I was at least entertained enough by how the movie deftly and economically handles its very simple idea under its very limited environment, and I appreciate that to some degree. Yes, as your average agnostic atheist, I have had lots of skepticism on those so-called spiritual stuffs, but I have learned well from many horror movies that you must not meddle with what you do not know well about, and the movie did a nice job of reminding me of that important lesson again.