The Zoom Generation (featuring Tart Alarm): Dr. Lauren & Darren Review “Host” (2020)

Dr. Lauren McIntyre is a horror obsessive, tattoo connoisseur, natural Goth and cat wrangler. The tart discussed in the following article looked a bit of a dog’s dinner but in fact tasted delicious. Say hi to her on Twitter: @noddinggoth

Darren Gaskell is a horror obsessive and “enthusiastic” karaoke performer. Darren did not get to sample the tart as he was several miles away at the time. Say hi to him on Twitter: @darren_gaskell

*** WARNING: THERE ARE A FEW SWEARS AHEAD AND SOME MINOR SPOILERS, PLUS MORE TART-RELATED CHAT ***

HOST (2020)

Starring: Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb

Writers: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd

Director: Rob Savage

Darren: So, this time we’re talking about Host which is a Shudder original, I think.

Dr. Lauren: Yep.

Darren: It’s about a Zoom call which takes the form of an online seance between a group of friends and a medium.

Dr. Lauren: The director, Rob Savage, only decided to make this film about ten or twelve weeks ago.

Darren: Wow! That’s quite an achievement. Apparently, he made it after talking to a medium who told him that business was really booming since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Dr. Lauren: Oh, really? That’s mental!

Darren: Lockdown appears to have triggered an increase in folks getting in touch with the dead.

Dr. Lauren: People are really bored, aren’t they?

Darren: What am I gonna do? I’ve gone through my Netflix watchlist. I know! Let’s communicate with the dead. That’ll be a good idea.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah!

Darren: So how did you watch this?

Dr. Lauren: I’d seen people banging on about it on Twitter and everyone was saying how good it was so I thought “I need to see this now before I find out any spoilers”. Me and my husband watched it on Friday night in the dark, well it was going dark outside and we had all the lights off. We watched it all in one stretch and it was a “no phones” situation. We wanted to properly concentrate on it. How about you?

Darren: I watched it sitting up in bed, in the dead of night on Thursday going into Friday.

Dr. Lauren: Oh! What is wrong with you?

Darren: It was pitch black, I was watching it on a computer and I had my headphones on.

Dr. Lauren: Oh no!

Darren: What the fuck was I doing? In that situation, I don’t mind saying that for quite long periods of this movie, especially with having the headphones on, I was absolutely shitting myself.

Dr. Lauren: You see, we just Chromecasted it from my phone on to the TV. You’re right, watching it on the computer like you did probably would have been better.

Darren: It increases the atmosphere and given how it’s presented it probably is the best way to watch it but I was not happy through quite a lot of it and I kept thinking that maybe I should just go downstairs and watch it on the TV. In the end, I decided to stick it out. There are certain points in Host where I was particularly uncomfortable watching it.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah! After we did the review of Ju-On: Origins and I mentioned my loft phobia…

Darren: Oh shit, yes, there’s another loft in this one!

Dr. Lauren: Host did nothing to help with that.

Darren: If anything, the loft in Host is more terrifying than the loft in Ju-On Origins.

[NOTE: Darren got a message from Dr. Lauren after she watched Host. The message contained just three words: THAT FUCKING LOFT]

Dr. Lauren: It was awful. I was quite scared during this. I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to Paranormal Activity, especially the first one. Now, I did not know anything about Paranormal Activity when I saw it as the Secret Film at Celluloid Screams. It was a couple of weeks before the Leicester Square premiere, I knew nothing about it and I absolutely shat my pants all the way through it. I don’t think I was quite as scared during Host as I was during Paranormal Activity but that could be because I’d already seen some stuff about it.

Darren: In the dark and having the screen very close, watching that lass looking around the loft and not knowing if or when anything was going to jump out, there was a point where I thought I should possibly switch it off and watch it on another medium.

Dr. Lauren: I was scared during it. It’s really tense.

Darren: The basic plot is that there’s five friends, all women, and a token bloke…for once, the token character is a bloke and he drops off the chat because he’s fannying about.

Dr. Lauren: His girlfriend’s being a dickhead.

Darren: You’re right. So mainly, it’s the five girls and the medium and someone decides to take the whole thing as a joke which really screws everything up. The set-up is pretty good because you get the sense that everyone knows each other, there’s a bit of banter and you don’t feel these people are not connected to each other. Within about ten minutes it builds the relationships very well.

Dr. Lauren: It did feel like being on a proper Zoom call. Obviously, during lockdown, I’ve done hundreds of bloody Zoom calls, everything from work meetings to having Friday drinks or watching films together.

Darren: It does capture that. I mean, you don’t get people constantly talking over each other but you can’t have twenty minutes of people saying “Well, who’s gonna talk next?”.

Dr. Lauren: They have that realistic “I’m just going to get a drink” or going for a toilet break thing.

Darren: Yeah, at one point everyone does go for a break and it’s not a particularly long stretch of the movie but you do get shots of people’s rooms while they’ve all disappeared which is very Zoom or Skype or whatever.

Dr. Lauren: It’s only, what, 56 minutes long and it takes a little bit longer for the scary stuff to start than I thought it would but it’s all real time and done well. To say that it’s that short a runtime you got to know the characters and I really liked the lady who played the medium, I thought she was great.

Darren: She was very good. It wasn’t the typical movie medium either so it’s a bit more of a…

Dr. Lauren: Oh, the tart alarm’s going off. I’ve got a cat on me as well.

[Dr. Lauren and Darren chat about tart-related matters while she goes to check on its baking progress. It needs ten more minutes.]

Dr. Lauren: Right. Let’s see what happens. I’ll probably go back in ten minutes and it’ll be fucking burnt.

Darren: This is going in the review.

Dr. Lauren: For context, it’s a nectarine and frangipane tart.

Darren: Ooh.

[Darren is about to drift off into a tart-related daydream but then remembers he’s in the middle of a review]

Darren: Anyway, the medium is more dialled back that you might find elsewhere. She’s not like, oh, what’s her name, Tangina in Poltergeist.

Dr. Lauren: Oh yeah!

Darren: The “Go towards the light!” types. They’re all very melodramatic. This medium is very calm and businesslike and down to earth and tells you what you need to do if you get scared. It’s a more grounded portrayal.

Dr. Lauren: Lin Shaye’s pretty grounded in the Insidious movies.

Darren: Yeah, good call, she is. I think recently that’s more the case. If you’re leaning into 70s and 80s movies the mediums in there are mostly floaty dresses and screaming.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah.

Darren: Without giving too much away, the plot does dictate that the medium is out of the picture which leaves the friends to deal with what’s going on. If the medium was there, she’d have worked out a way to dispel the spirit and you’d have no movie.

Dr. Lauren: I really enjoyed it, I thought it was great. I didn’t think there was a whole lot of stuff I hadn’t seen before but it all was done very well. I think maybe Death Of A Vlogger was slightly more inventive with a similar sort of thing.

Darren: This is a more straightforward spiritual invasion story so you get the lights flickering and things fall out of places so you have the usual jump scares you’d expect. I’m not a massive fan of jump scares but even so they are pretty decently done here.

Dr. Lauren: They’re well placed and they’re well timed. I thought the second half was very tense and I probably watched most of the last 15 to 20 minutes through my fingers.

Darren: The tension does ramp up. It also not only sticks to the rules of Zoom calls but it also brings in the rules about what you should and shouldn’t down in lockdown.

Dr. Lauren: I’d be interested to see if there’s a sequel commissioned or whether this is just a standalone. You could easily, easily see a whole franchise coming out of this thing.

Darren: It doesn’t answer a whole load of questions.

Dr. Lauren: Which I liked.

Darren: Me too. You’re not fed a lot of information about who the spirit is or why it’s there or what its intentions are. Well, its intentions seem to be to murder as many people as it possibly can in a short space of time.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah, it really does crack on with that quite fast.

Darren: It doesn’t hang about. Going to back to Ju-On, there’s not much of that toying with a person where it’s giving them a few scares over the course of a few days. This gives them a bit of a start but goes straight to “Fuck this, I’m gonna kill ’em now”.

Dr. Lauren: And it really does rattle through various people.

Darren: The body count goes up quite quickly. As an aside, the individual actresses are credited as stunt co-ordinators as there’s no stunt doubles here. They’re chucking themselves about a bit. There’s one particular death, which involves water, which I thought was really cool.

Dr. Lauren: All the deaths were good. You didn’t see too much but what you did see looked great. There were a couple that really did make me jump.

Darren: I’m trying not to spoil it here. There’s one death which happens fairly close to the screen and at that point I was leaning forward to try and work out what was going on and then that happened.

Dr. Lauren: That one really got me. It really did. There’s a bit earlier when someone is messing around with a Zoom background and I thought that was going to come into play at some point.

Darren: It has a really good handle on the technology. It’s not a gimmicky hook on which to hang a horror story, it does show how Zoom works. Yes, you always get the person that’s on mute. Looking at all these ads where people are on Zoom calls and there’s always one person on mute, I guess that trope is already getting tired. I know everybody does it. I do it on Zoom calls occasionally. I expected that one of them would be on mute and that someone else would have to tell them. That’s an extremely minor gripe. It’s the trope for the Zoom generation that someone will always be on mute.

Dr. Lauren: So it was well up there with Death Of A Vlogger and Paranormal Activity. It was definitely better than Unfriended.

Darren: It was certainly better than the first one. I’m a big fan of Dark Web, the second one.

Dr. Lauren: I’ll have to get round to seeing that.

Darren: Dark Web is a big step up on the original Unfriended movie and I think Host is right up there with it. I agree with you about Death Of A Vlogger, which takes a similar line but goes in a lot of different directions and expands the story. Saying that, within its limited runtime, Host gets in, does what it does extremely well and then gets out. The shorter runtime really does help. If it was 80 or 90 minutes, you’d get that thing in most found footage films where you kind of know the first 40 or 45 minutes is going to be padding.

[There’s a buzz.]

Darren: Do we have another tart alarm?

Dr. Lauren: Yes!

Darren: This is almost as suspenseful as Host is. I’m waiting for something to jump out of the oven.

[Nothing jumps out of the oven.]

Darren: I can kind of see that tart in the background.

Dr. Lauren: I’ll show you what it looks like.

[Big reveal of said tart.]

Darren: That looks good.

Dr. Lauren: The edges were cooked. It was just the middle bit. I’m leaving it at that. I’m not dicking about with it any more. We can now finish the review. Sorry.

[Short pause.]

Dr. Lauren: And now the cat’s stolen my seat! Little prick. Right, shall we finish this review?

Darren: So, yes, back to the runtime. It does help. When I first saw the details I thought it was a typo. I thought “Is this really under an hour?”. But I have no problem with that. It’s the whole “Manborg Syndrome”* thing.

Dr. Lauren: I was just going to say that. It knows what it wants to do, it gets in and out, it doesn’t dick around. There’s no padding, everything is relevant and I think there’s more films and more filmmakers that could learn from that. They don’t need to pad their films out to 90 minutes when it’s not necessary, especially when it’s not a mainstream release.

Darren: Yeah.

Dr. Lauren: If you’re going to a cinema and paying 12 or 15 quid for a ticket a lot of people might feel that films have to be longer to justify the ticket price. If you’re on a streaming platform you don’t have that to worry about. I’d rather have a short, good film.

Darren: Exactly. It’s a good point you make about cinemas. There’s an expectation that when you go to sit in a cinema there’s kind of a contract between the filmmaker and the viewer than it should run at or beyond a set amount of time. Having said that, I went to see Piranha 3DD and that was maybe 70 minutes when the credits rolled.

Dr. Lauren: Really?

Darren: I also saw Wolves At The Door, for my sins. It’s a piece of shit and I wouldn’t recommend anyone should watch it but that was 69 minutes long including credits. To be honest, I didn’t feel short-changed with how short Wolves At The Door was, I was just glad to get the fuck out of there. My reaction was “Thank God that’s over”. In the spirit of me never having walked out of a movie, Wolves At The Door tested my patience beyond measure. It was horrible.

Dr. Lauren: I did not need to see another film about the Manson murders.

Darren: Going back to Host, it can run as long or as short as it wants to. I was fine with it being under an hour. It didn’t need anything else. If they’d tried to open out the first act and added more character development it would have felt flabby. It was perfectly good as it was.

Dr. Lauren: Yeah, there was enough of that. We got to know everyone enough so that you felt sympathy for them and you didn’t need any more. I would like to see a sequel.

Darren: It would be interesting to see what direction a sequel would take. The ending you can kind of see coming but it does make full and very amusing use of the technology. The end credits I especially liked, how they unspool is brilliant.

Dr. Lauren: Steve thought that was still part of the film!

Darren: It makes a very vital plot point of a specific feature of Zoom which comes into play at the end. It cleverly takes something I think we’ve all experienced on Zoom and uses it in the climax.

Dr. Lauren: It was very clever.

Darren: I was impressed, particularly due to the fact that they’ve put it together in a very short space of time.

Dr. Lauren: I’d say well done to everybody involved.

Darren: Yes.

Dr. Lauren: Would what you score it? I’m giving it four.

Darren: Okay, so initially I was wavering between three and a half and four because I’d given Death Of A Vlogger four. I’m now thinking I need to go back and give Death Of A Vlogger four and a half because I can’t really give this lower than four. The more I think about Host and how well it hangs together and the quality of the atmosphere and the scares, three and a half would be ridiculously pernickity. I have to give it four out of five.

Dr. Lauren; Yeah, I’m definitely giving it four.

Darren: So, well done to Host!

Dr. Lauren: Yes! Well done!

THE SCORES

Dr. Lauren: 4 / 5

Darren: 4 / 5

*Manborg Syndrome: The movie Manborg runs for an hour. It doesn’t need to be a second longer. At an hour, it’s great. At 90 minutes, the concept would have been stretched beyond breaking point and it would have not been the absolute riot it is. Thank you, Astron-6.

Oh, did you really think we wouldn’t show you the tart? Here it is:

About celluloiddeej

Film fan, horror festival goer, karaoke enthusiast, cat whisperer, world traveller, complete idiot. Happy to chat with you on your podcast/whatever if you can stand the Yorkshire accent.

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