Shudder’s ‘Host’ finds the true horror in pandemic Zoom calls

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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.

Shudder

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.

Shudder, an AMC-owned streaming service dedicated to horror, ended up being the perfect home for the film, Savage said. It gave him the freedom to shoot the film in order sequentially and in creative new ways. The cast shot themselves remotely, and also handled their own effects and lighting. Shudder was also open to something shorter than a standard 90-minutes.

Indeed, Host’s short running time is one reason it’s so impactful. It fits a ton of scares and character building into 57 minutes. If we spent any more time with these characters, as often happens with overcooked Netflix shows and movies, we might end up souring on the Zoom horror concept. The film’s scrappy production also lends itself to the creepy atmosphere. The cast had to shoot over consumer webcams and smartphones, so nothing is ever too clear, and you can tell they actually lived in the spaces they were filming.

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