Host (4 stars)

Host

This witty and ingenious Zoom-based horror sees six friends terrorised during lockdown

Not everyone would agree that horror films can be fun but Host makes the case pretty persuasively. This trim, witty and pertinent British chiller was conceived, shot and distributed during lockdown. Released on genre subscription service Shudder back in July, it is set to make as much of a splash in cinemas as the current restrictions allow. Director Rob Savage and a terrific, predominantly female cast freshen up the 'found-footage' movie, perfectly capturing our strange new times, before launching into a succession of full-throttle scares.

Running to just under an hour, it takes the form of a Zoom call between six friends during lockdown. At the suggestion of Haley (Haley Bishop), the group have hired medium Seylan (Seylan Baxter) to conduct a virtual séance. The reactions from the group (which also includes characters played by Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward and Edward Linard) are varied: some seem like true believers; others are clearly not taking things remotely seriously, that in itself will have consequences. As they dabble dangerously with the occult, unexplained things start to occur across the call.

Many of the recognisable, sometimes barely perceptible features of video chats with pals feature. Technology fails and puzzled faces are pulled as they try to figure things out. There are impatient glances and grimaces, some taboo coughing, relatives and partners make cameos, the group explode into slightly unsynchronised laughter; and there are surreptitious little comments about each other's choice of partners and living situations, made when the relevant party leaves the room – sniping that needs to suddenly be cut short. 'They should never have moved in together during lockdown,' goes one such observation.

The medium is expertly mined, with masks, spooky screensavers and light effects playing their part. There's a winning amount of levity, but when it goes for the jugular Host maintains its ferocity and frights for an impressive duration. The authentic performances – strong across the board, so that it's hard to pick a standout – fuel the believable interactions, which begin in an appealingly comical and casual fashion, and makes the rising fear extremely impactful. Host is hugely inventive and a must for horror fans but, given its brevity, it feels like a warm-up ahead of something bigger. Given that Savage has just signed a three-picture deal with genre giants Blumhouse, we look forward to finding out what that will be.

Available to watch in cinemas and on demand from Fri 4 Dec.

Host

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • UK
  • 57min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Rob Savage
  • Cast: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb

Six friends invite a medium to host a seance over Zoom, only to invite an evil spirit into their homes.