Just when so many of us have become desensitized to the mundane horror of never-ending Zoom meetings and the isolation of quarantine, comes a movie that explores just that. Shudder’s Host follows a group of friends, each sheltering from the pandemic, as they conduct a virtual seance over Zoom.
Surprise surprise, things go very wrong over its short 57 minute runtime. It’s a serviceable horror film, but Host’s true genius is how it reflects lockdown life, both through its narrative and its very existence.
The film starts with a Zoom call login (complete with manually selecting “Join with Computer Audio”). If you’re watching it on a laptop, it’s easy to mistake it for the ritual you may already be doing several times a day. We meet the main characters, a group of young Millennial women and their obligatory, wild guy buddy.
Most are locked down in their apartments, but there are glimpses of the other ways people are sheltering in place. One girl invited her short-term significant other to stay with her, but they’re clearly already tired of each other. And the aforementioned guy friend is staying with his girlfriend’s parents in the country.
While we don’t spend much time with the friends before things get creepy, we see them deal with issues familiar to anyone living through the COVID-19 epidemic. There’s the frustration of wrangling an older parent who keeps going outside, even if a short walk may mean certain doom.
The annoyance of joining a Zoom call properly (and the piercing sounds of bad audio reverb). Like the audience, they’re all clearly tired of this shit.
Once they all gather and start chatting with their virtual medium, she raises an intriguing concern: They’re more vulnerable to otherworldly influences because they’re conducting a seance remotely. They don’t have the spiritual protection of being in a room together.
It feels like an apt metaphor for our current lives. Our friendships and relationships still exist, but it’s hard for those connections to give you the same psychological support when they’re occurring over video chats. (Maybe I just miss having casual drinks and coffee with friends.)
The idea for Host came after director Rob Savage pranked his friends over a Zoom call, he told Rolling Stone. Savage gathered a group for moral support as he explored the creepy attic in his new apartment —but what they didn’t expect was for him to be attacked by a zombie, throwing him to the floor.
He cut the Zoom recording down to a two-minute clip which, unsurprisingly, went viral on Twitter. Then came the calls for a longer spin on the concept, which led Savage to enlist writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley to write up a 17-page outline.