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Review: Shudder’s ‘Host’: The Medium is the Message

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Review: Shudder's 'Host': The Medium is the Message

quarror kwawr-er (noun): A piece of horror fiction about time spent in quarantine

The fact that Host exists is inevitable. The fact that it is good is a miracle.

There are already a few movies capitalising on the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Long-lived schlock purveyors Full Moon Entertainment have released a movie called Corona Zombies, a cobbled-together attempt at cashing in on the Coronavirus news cycle. Iranian filmmaker Mostafa Keshvari will be releasing Corona, a Canadian production that centers the disease through the lens of racism, sometime in September. There will be more movies that will take advantage of Coronavirus and its topicality. Most of these movies will be profit-driven exploitation, rather than well-made horror.

Here is one fundamental difference between Host and this glut of other films: Host is not a movie about the Coronavirus. Instead, it is an exceptionally effective horror film that utilizes the tools of communication we’ve adapted during quarantine. You’ll find some familiar, contemporary language about “social distancing” and fear of coughing, but make no mistake, the horror in Host does not come from Covid-19. As deadly as the pandemic is, it does not drive the scares in this movie.

Host is about a group of friends who, separated during quarantine, use the video-conferencing software Zoom to come together and socialize. So, we the audience watch the story unfold in real-time as if we were users in the Zoom call. We’re first introduced to Hailey, who starts the conference by inviting her friends to a scheduled Zoom call. One by one, Jemma, Radina, Caroline, Emma and Teddy join the call, offering us glimpses into their spaces and, ultimately, the various settings in which the movie unfolds.

Host Cast

As the friends catch up, they reveal that the Zoom chat is actually going to be used for a virtual seance. A seventh user, Seylan, is added to the chat and introduces herself to the friends. Seylan is a medium, and will be leading the friends through the socially-distanced seance, where they will be attempting to contact the dead. Each friend has a special totem that they will use, and after Seylan gives some instructions, the process begins.

Now, in order to keep this review “spoiler-free,” I won’t give you any further details as to how the story unfolds. But know this: it has nothing to do with Covid-19. This is a scary movie, and none of the scares come from the Coronavirus. That is probably what makes this film great. The filmmakers have the good sense of knowing that we are all going through the horrors of the Coronavirus on a daily basis. A mass audience does NOT want to sit through a movie and be reminded of how awful things are as this pandemic ebbs and flows and continues to kill people. This is what separates Host from a topical cash-grab, and elevates it as a piece of horror fiction.

Host’s second biggest strength is it’s runtime, coming in at only 57-minutes long. The director, Rob Savage, is able to utilize the short runtime to tell a simple, powerful story in under one hour. There is no fat in this movie, and it wouldn’t benefit from studio interference or Producer’s Cut trimming. Instead, it is a lean, straightforward story. There is no time for the movie to be mired in complicated mythology, or bogged down by unnecessary backstory. Host gets in, gets out, and scares the pants off of you in between. It is the first great “quarror movie.”

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