(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Host

Where You Can Stream It: Shudder

The Pitch: What if a group of friends, isolated and bored during quarantine in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, decided to hold a seance over Zoom? And what if everything went catastrophically wrong, unleashing something evil into their homes? And what if this film, from director Rob Savage, was conceived and produced during the pandemic, filmed entirely by a cast and crew working from separate locations and safely social distancing? And here’s the final what-if: what if it was actually really good?

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: If Host was a bad movie, its making-of story would at least make it interesting. But since Host is good and scary and tense and well-acted and well-made, the fascinating story behind its production enhances an already strong film. And at 56 minutes, the film is all business, with no time wasted – Savage realizes that watching a Zoom call gone wrong is the kind of concept that is better accomplished with one foot on the gas pedal.

The “seance gone wrong” is a common horror set-up, as is the “friends gather online and bad things happen” sub-genre. But Host mashes them together and manages to feel fresh. While there’s not much character development (that 56-minute running time!), the cast makes that feel like a feature rather than a bug – we’re watching a group of friends hang out on Zoom and they have a natural camaraderie already, so why would they re-introduce themselves to people they already know? The film is more interested in cutting straight to the horror. The characters have consulted a medium to conduct an online seance. Some members of the call don’t take the situation as seriously as they should. Something goes wrong. Something bad is summoned. Cue the scares!

There’s a lot to be said about how Host pulls off its various jump scares, and how it builds tension through long shots of people staring, terrified, into their laptop screens. Clever visual effects work blend with some strong physical performances to bring the horrifying moments to life with great effect. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this film is that it feels like a story set during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than a film made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And if you’re pandemic-ed out (and who isn’t?), Host doesn’t push any irritating or frustrating buttons. This is not a film where the evil presence summoned is a stand-in for the coronavirus – this is simply a film set during the summer of 2020, when everyone was wearing masks and bored in their homes and already on edge. The real-world aspects lend the film’s setting a specificity, but do not define it. This is ultimately a fairly straightforward horror movie about young folks messing with forces they disrespect and cannot comprehend, and one that feels familiar in all of the right ways. And let me tell you, watching something new and familiar, made during the pandemic and suggesting that we can still create these kinds of comfort food horror movies while in crisis mode, is oddly comforting.

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