There’s nothing I love more than hopping on a good horror bandwagon, and while I was hesitant to fall for the “spooky Zoom meeting” movie hype, I watched it (twice now) and found that this movie is so much more than a gimmick for the Corona age. So no, I didn’t just fall, I dove headfirst just like Emma out of her second floor window...oh yeah, there’s going to be spoilers.
Directed by Rob Savage
Written by Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, and Jed Shepherd
Starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, and Caroline Ward
Maybe about a week or so ago I was lamenting with another horror obsessed friend that we just couldn’t find anything that truly scared us. The last time a movie really got me was the first time I saw Insidious in 2010. While the years and multiple Darth Maul memes have made the movie more endearing than terrifying, I still get a chill whenever I hear Tiptoe Through the Tulips. Actually, if I’m being honest, Hereditary also freaked me out, but more in an upsetting sick to my stomach kind of way, but I digress.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that a horror movie hasn’t thrilled me in a long time, but Host sure as hell did. It didn’t help that I was watching it alone on my phone the first time, and on my laptop, alone, during a rainstorm the second time, but still I never jumped (and nervously laughed) so many times during a one hour span in a looooong time. And while watching it alone is definitely an experience, I couldn’t help but get a little lonely during it.
Host is the type of movie that pre-teen Marnie would show to her friends during sleepovers like all the times she would bring The Ring and The Grudge DVDs over to their houses (most of the time with parental permissions). This movie just feels like a Friday night in my friend’s finished basement wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets, eating popcorn and trying desperately to scare each other. It’s the type where we would freak out at every jumpscare and talk about them all night until the wee hours when we’d finally pass out after daring each other to go upstairs in the dark.
Which really is hilarious if you think about it since this entire film is about distance.
If nothing really sums up a quarantine then “accidentally” getting hunted by a demon during a Zoom meeting with your friends, nothing else will. While I have a feeling this is going to be a bit of a trend with future horror movies (hell, we already have Unfriended 1 and 2), especially since we realistically might have long stretches of quarantining in the foreseeable future, I don’t think anyone else is going to do it like Host.
Even beyond the thrills and weird ass demon faces, the movie has a lot of depth to it as well. Jemma and Haley’s tumultuous friendship is one of the first things that come to mind, and really is a crux to the plot of this movie. But let me begin with a little *cough cough* rundown of Host.
The film starts with our “host” Haley starting up Zoom to begin a meeting by sending out an invite to her friends: Jemma, Emma, Radina, Caroline, and Teddy. From the beginning we already get a little thrill when Haley hears a thumping sound coming from somewhere in her apartment. What Haley doesn’t see is that Jemma’s phone connected to Zoom and needed permission to come into the actual meeting. Just one of the many fun pop-ups throughout the film that utilize the laptop format we view the whole story through. That was also a thing that I only picked up on my second watching/notetaking session. So in reality, both the viewer and Haley have no idea where the sound is coming from, so Hayley takes the laptop around her apartment as she scares herself with an ironing board in her hall and basically gives us a tour of a setting that comes into play later as well.
I have to say that is really one thing I absolutely love in this movie. No moment, no matter how little, is wasted. Haley’s ironing board popping out of her closet comes into play, the light is Radina’s apartment is used like an omen, the fact that the first and last times we see Jinny are at the pool, and even during this opening sequence we see that in Haley’s kitchen/living area (I think) are a row of windows that will also be important to the plot at some point. When she pulls away the curtain we get our first of Haley’s friend group: Jemma. She’s the source of the thudding by tossing some type of projectile at Haley’s window to get her attention. This not only lets us know where those windows are situated, but that Jemma lives in walking distance from Haley. As seen when Jemma finally gets in on the meeting through her phone and walks down the street to her own place.
Now, the first time I watched the movie, I did think Jemma lived in the same building as Haley and while some of the geography can seem kind of weird at first, I’ll chalk that up to me being really bad with spatial awareness and layout. The second time I watched, I fully understood where each person was in relation to either their house or apartment.
Anyway, I really enjoy how from the beginning we can already see that while Jemma and Haley seem pretty close, Jemma can immediately get under Haley’s skin. When Jemma tries to get into the meeting through her laptop while still on her phone, it creates an obnoxiously loud echo loop that Jemma makes worse by laughing instead of trying to fix it. While she’s having a little bit of fun and giggling about it, Haley already looks flustered. Again, its another point that comes into play later.
Now instead of making this a ten page long review (it’s still pretty close) I’m going to kick it up a notch *wink* and fly past the introductions of each friend and get to the start of the seance. That being said though, while we never get a real idea about how they met or became friends (I’m especially interested in Haley’s background since she’s the only American out of the English group) we get a sense that these people have known each other forever. They all joke, and gossip like a group that, before quarantine, probably spent a lot of time with each other. Whether they met in high school or college, they seem like a solid group of people who are going through the changes of early adulthood together. What I’m trying to say is that they realistically are friends, and the empathy for them is there right from the start.
Now, during the seance we get more things that will be used later and some lore behind what they are doing. Seylan, who I’m guessing is a medium even though I think it’s never stated, has “helped” Haley in the past to contact spirits (which might explain Haley’s jumpiness before the seance) and this time she’s doing it over Zoom for the first time. Which isn’t like a HUGE red flag, right?
From the get go, I’m a little suspicious of Seylan. Even though she seems pretty genuine, she also seems to hold back a lot from the group. While she admits that doing a seance over the internet could leave the separate group members vulnerable, she never explicitly states what they could be vulnerable to except to slip in the “possession” word as they start their circle.
I really love the visual aspects of this part. There are just so many little things that you’re trying to look at at once, it’s almost dizzying. Like I’m still not sure what each person’s token is, but I think Jemma (who isn’t taking this seriously) doesn’t have one, and I’m getting the vibe that Teddy’s brother is dead along with Caroline’s mother (I have no clue if it’s true about Caroline but that’s the feeling). And while everyone else is excited, scared, or indifferent about the whole thing, I can’t get a read on Haley.
I figure this is done on purpose since she’s gone through seances a few times with Seylan and is mortally serious about the whole thing, but I feel like she’s the one who stays mostly out of focus throughout the seance right up until Seylan’s “internet goes out.” Which I rewound that a few times and something falls on the woman, like straight up. I have no idea how that made her internet go out but it seems fishy.
Now of course we lose Seylan right after Jemma feels like something is around her neck, and tells us that the name Jack popped in her head. Through tears she says that Jack was a boy in school who helped her once when she hurt herself, and that he ended his own life by hanging herself. Right then Seylan’s “internet goes out,” and right after that it’s revealed that Jemma was faking the the whole story and that Jack isn’t real. This MASSIVELY pisses Haley off and while the two start to fight (which doesn’t seem like the first time) Haley’s chair gets forcefully moved across the room, and this is when shit gets spooky.
Haley searches her apartment only to hear a thumping that didn’t come from her place, but from Caroline’s house. Caroline tentatively goes to find out where the noise came from (I have a theory that it was her dad being murdered by the demon) only for the thumping to come again from the attic.
I absolutely adore this part because it’s so effective and so very real. Caroline is absolutely terrified and after she pulls the ladder down from the attic, she points the camera right at that dark-as-hell hole in the ceiling and just says: “no” and runs into her room. I never related to a horror movie character more. Then she grabs a selfie stick, puts her tablet in it and then swings that bitch up to survey the attic and new set of legs that are just dangling there.
Everyone freaks out of course and this launches Haley into staring down her hallway and breathing heavily as she sees something that no one else (including us) can see. She takes a polaroid camera (used at the start of the seance to capture all those fun memories) and snaps a photo only to find that hooded man is literally hanging out in her kitchen, and then Emma’s wine glass explodes, scaring her so much she backs into her bedroom doorway.
Now they are all incredibly freaked out so Haley calles Seylan only for the woman with “internet troubles” to tell them that because Jemma disrespected the spirits by making up a fake story, she inadvertently created a mask for a “false spirit” who could either be an actual spirit or (dun dun dunnnn) a demon. But instead of immediately getting the girls to break the circle (which she explained to them during the seance) the woman tries to find out if the spirit, that is already terrorizing them, is good or not. Like are you serious? She actually gets the girls to talk to thing and you know how it responds? By fucking their shit up almost, that’s how.
Oh yeah, Seylan peaces out AGAIN when Haley’s lights go out, so Haley tries to get her friends to break the circle by doing the visualization stuff (which I’m guessing didn’t work because Teddy wasn’t there with them), and we get a moment right after where Haley sneezes, which makes the girls laugh and immediately everything kind of feels like it’s going back to normal.
The women are all shaken, but they’re back to goofing around. At least for a few minutes until Radina can’t find where her boyfriend (who seems to constantly argue with her as they’re a new couple living with each other during quarantine) went to, and while Jemma is trying to get out of the meeting to go to bed (after causing all of the trouble to start with) they can’t seem to find where Caroline went to.
When she does pop back into her room we find that it is just a loop of a background she made for Zoom where her “twin” dressed in the same clothes goes to her dresser and brushes her hair. As the loop plays out something suddenly hits the screen (looking suspiciously like a face), startling the ladies as Emma looks at her downstairs light fixtures that are moving back and forth. As Emma pans down with her phone, a mask filter (that she was having fun with before) suddenly pops up in the center of the room as if someone was standing there.
I think my favorite parts of this movie are when the women are watching each other like they’re also watching a horror movie and commenting on it the entire time. This movie already feels so interactive and real since we’re seeing it through the perspective of a person’s laptop, but this is just another element that makes it feel like we’re apart of the actual event. But, thankfully we aren’t because the Alice Sweet Alice mask that’s in the middle of Emma’s room turns to look at her. And while she tries to Final Girl it by throwing flour at the invisible thing in front of her, it only gives us another awesome visual of footprints forming and coming towards Emma while the demon also throws all of the shit out of her cupboards, creating total chaos. She runs up her stairs and down to her bedroom only to be lifted and dropped by the demon. Another stunning and terrifying visual.
Now we’re on a roll because Haley and Jemma are desperately trying to get Radina’s attention as she tries to call her boyfriend’s brother to find him only for her oven (which was hinted at by a green light earlier in the movie) starts to smoke, but before she can do anything she has to deal with the fact that her friends are yelling to her. So she unmutes her microphone to find out what they want only for her bleeding boyfriend to come crashing down from the ceiling. She runs with her laptop and tries to get out, but is stopped by a force that pulls her back and all we’re left with is the sight of a flight of stairs and a blood spot on the camera.
The women are in utter shock, with the already beyond freaked out Emma hiding under a blanket in her room, and the other two trying to figure out what to do next. But before they can a bunch of weird messages from Caroline start to pop up on the screen and just seem like a mix of letters mashed together with no meaning. They find out quickly, as Caroline’s face enters and disappears behind her background, that her head is being smashed repeatedly into her keyboard and desk, face covered entirely in blood and with no visible being behind her. She gets her face slammed again and again until only her background loop is playing once more.
Again, the ladies don’t know how to react, but Haley tries to call Seylan once more while Jemma screams at her that it was all Haley’s fault. The two try to fight again (brilliantly showing how Zoom technology is not made for fights as they try to argue but keep cutting off each other’s audio) only for Haley’s chair to be pulled back once more. She yells in frustration at this as the demon taunts her, moving the chair again only to distract Haley long enough to grab her leg and pull her into the hallway, shutting the door behind her.
This finally, FINALLY propels Jemma to do something other than stare at her screen in horror, and she pulls on a face mask (the most beautiful touch of this quarantine movie) and leaves her apartment to presumably go help Haley.
This leaves the shell shocked Emma sobbing alone until a drunk and belligerent Teddy returns (with a puppet as terrifying as the Poltergeist clown) only to sober up by the scary-ass-fucking-faces that keep popping out of nowhere to freak him out. He runs outside only for his girlfriend to hover above the pool and get her neck snapped, so he books it to the garage (barn?) to find a noose and the item he brought for the seance (a creepy music box that his brother would scare him with) playing in the middle of the floor. He goes towards it with a Zippo lighter as his only light source, only to be pulled back by the demon and thrown to the ground. He lays still as a fire starts to spread over his body, and then wakes up screaming until the video freezes. I’m not sure if it is, but it really looks like they did a practical fire stunt over the actor’s body, so kudos to Edward Linard. Itlooked sooooo messed up that that visual definitely overpowers the slightly goofy (though still made me jump) demon faces at the start of Teddy’s segment.
With another friend gone, Emma seems utterly alone. Still in hysterics, she hears a noise and pulls off her blanket to see that her bedroom door was opened. The empty space in front of her speaks volumes of tense, static-y silence as she grabs a blanket and throws it only for it to land on the invisible figure in front of her. She panics and goes for her window and while I’m not sure if she jumped or was thrown (her phone falls first so we can’t actually tell) she ends up diving into a picnic table in her yard, the only thing visible being a motionless bunny slipper.
After this we see, screen by screen, a close-up of some of the fallen or frozen laptops and phones as a knocking is heard at one of their places. We can’t tell which until the window (which we saw at the start) behind Haley’s laptop explodes, and a still masked Jemma enters. She runs to Haley’s laptop only to see that Emma is already gone. She turns away as each her dead friends exit the meeting the same way they were first introduced, flashing cute or fun selfies as each person is disconnected for good. She looks around the room to call out Haley’s name only to be hit by a bottle and knocked to the ground.
It stops her for a moment as she pulls down Haley’s laptop to her level, only to be terrified once more when the cupboards open, exploding food onto the floor much like Emma’s. This is another part I think is neat because I’m fairly certain the demon is screwing with Jemma at this point. Earlier, when there was a quiet moment during the seance she decides to make it more interesting by pretending to be contacted by a person who didn’t exist because “nothing was happening.” Now when nothing happens just for a second, as she tries to catch her breath, the demon decides to cause more chaos. This only forces Jemma to grab the laptop and make her way down the hall (knocking that DAMN ironing board out of the closet again) only to find that Haley was hiding under a desk this entire time.
This gives us a last endearing moment between the bickering pair as Haley looks like she’s about to give Jemma a hug, remembers what time period they’re in, and bumps elbows to keep up their social distancing. It’s our last lighthearted breath though. Jemma starts to walk towards what I’m presuming is the way out of the apartment, but instead of leaving, Haley grabs her damn camera to once again take pictures down the hallway. While the friends make their way to the kitchen, one final flash gives us the full, and disgusting, face of the demon as it lunges at Jemma and ends the meeting.
God, I love this movie. It wasn’t evan an hour long and yet I just wrote six pages (sorry) about it! It just so brilliantly moves between realism and the supernatural that while I would show it at a slumber party for some cheap thrill, I also haven’t stopped thinking about it either. Hell, I just watched it a second time and I want to watch it again. I also have a theory that Haley and Seylan were in on this together and knew they were going to summon a demon to sacrifice Haley’s friends, but I already have enough conjecture in this review alone. I need to do more research (and more watching), so you’ll likely find a theory post coming out soon.
Again, big kudos to the cast and crew on something so fresh and fun that still uses some horror tropes but in a new, and clever way. I’m now going to try and convince my non-horror loving friend to watch this movie as the cycle of pushing horror onto my friend group continues.
Oops, I mean
Photos courtesy of Shudder