From the start of 2020’s pandemic lockdown, it was always clear that someone would take up the newly popular Zoom chat concept and take advantage of the situation. Luckily, instead of a deluge of half-baked computer screen dramas, the film that emerged was Rob Savage’s Host. Coming hot off the heels of a short viral prank video that Savage created early during lockdown, this is the same concept expanded organically to short feature length. A gleefully fun nugget of new horror cinema, capturing this strange time perfectly.

The premise is delightfully simple. On a Saturday evening during the COVID lockdown, Haley (Haley Bishop) has invited a group of her pals into their weekly video catch-up. To break with the monotony, they’ve invited Seylan (Seylan Baxter), a local medium, to lead them in a séance. Needless to say, things go wrong, and events begin to take a dark turn. Strange noises abound with weird phenomena occurring, as the friends find their evening turning into something more than just a little spooky.

It’s fair to say that Host is a film which takes more than a few nods from the existing landscape of modern horror. The obvious comparison is the similarly styled “video-screen” horror film Unfriended. Yet, the tone of the film owes a larger debt to the seemingly interminable Paranormal Activity franchise. The now genre conceits of using the actors’ real first names are observed, as are lo-fi door slams, shaky light fixtures, and some clever editing tricks. Needless to say, fans of modern horror, particularly found footage, won’t find anything earth-shatteringly new here, and some moments do feel like homages, or even direct lifts from other films.

But what sets Host ahead of the crowd, and what makes it more than a zeitgeist-slapping novelty is the lean, likeability of the whole affair. The conceit of the film being a recorded Zoom chat ties brilliantly into its relatively short runtime. What’s more, the inevitably wobbly “who’s who” and setup in the opening minutes are brilliantly and blissfully short circuited by the laid-back familiarity of the visually varied and quirky cast. Not to mention the formatting convenience of everyone having their names being onscreen throughout, making identifying them simple as things spiral out of control. This is helped massively by the cast of relatively unknown actors, who each come across as believably real people throughout. There’s enough hinted backstories, in-jokes and unspoken interplay to sell the situation, while never over-egging the story into wasteful padding or melodrama.

The end result is an experience that’s brief, enjoyable, and hits every note it needs to in order to entertain you.

Available to stream on Shudder now