It’s virtual girls’ night in as Jemma, Emma, Radina, Caroline and token boy Teddy are invited to log into host Hayley’s online Zoom meeting for a séance to be conducted by medium Seylan. The rules are clearly stated: take it seriously and be respectful, but with everyone looking for an excuse to let their hair down in lockdown and playing drinking games it’s not long until any good intentions are abandoned.
Hayley promising that “every time I’ve done it something has gone on,” she reassures her friends that all will be fine, but as the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit the friends begin to experience more than they expected, noises in their houses and half-glimpsed figures in the background where nobody should be.
Directed by Rob Savage from a script co-written with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, Host is a lockdown horror film which makes the best of its limited production means with the cast, Hayley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward and Edward Linard, each performing in isolation in their own homes.
A new twist on the well-worn found footage format, Host is a timely film but still suffers from the limitations of the sub-genre, asking the viewer to match the immediate credulity of the participants and with little scope for soundtrack or cinematic technique to create atmosphere or elicit empathy with the characters, though the post-production enhancements confirm the behind-the-scenes effort and talent which has gone into the project.
Where the film cannot overcome its conceit is in the largely static shots of darkened living rooms and kitchens and the limited opportunity to advance the narrative, more minimalist even than the early Paranormal Activity films: Teddy drops offline, Seylan vanishes from sight of her camera, and crucially one of the participants lies, breaking a fundamental rule of engagement with the spirit world.
While the premise of a peer group of similar age and social background makes sense in the context the compromise is that the characters are interchangeable and poorly defined, the dialogue too often reliant on squabbling and swearing rather than development where it might have been more interesting to explore their personal reasons for participation, and ultimately Hayley is a disappointing host, her offering no more scary than banging cupboards as it progresses towards the inevitable Blair Witch Project homage of hysterical weeping into the camera.
Host will be released in cinemas and on digital platforms on Friday 4th December