M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! Every day in this glorious month of October I’ll be counting down the best in horror, culminating with the best horror film since last Halloween! With theaters closed for the bulk of this shitty, shitty year, much of the countdown comes from alternative sources like streaming services, digital download, and On Demand. Plus, we saw the return of the drive-in theater, which is awesome! This list compiles the best horror films released beginning on October 1, 2019 and ending on September 30, 2020. No elitism here—only films released to the public on this list which rules out haughty festival flicks that only esteemed reviewers get to see. If it played on a public screen this year, it’s fair game to be on the list. Here we go!
Released on July 30, 2020. Exclusively streaming on SHUDDER!
Directed by Rob Savage
Written by Rob Savage, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd
Starring Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Edward Linard, Jinny Lofthouse, Seylan Baxter, Jack Brydon, James Swanton
They say some of the most creative things come from desperate times. That is certainly the case with HOST, a new film that takes full advantage of the current state of the locked down world. With everyone communicating on Zoom, it was a matter of time someone was going to come along and make a movie about a Zoom session from Hell. Who would have thoughts they would make it so damn good?
Six young friends who are all locked into their apartments due to the pandemic hold a Zoom session in order to reconnect since they’ve been housebound for too long. They decide to invite a woman in to hold an online séance as a fun activity, but unbeknownst to everyone, an evil spirit is set loose and even though they are miles apart and bolted behind doors in their own homes, that doesn’t seem to be able to stop the evil spirit from haunted them all.
HOST is one of those brilliant films that occur right at the perfect time. Everyone has been on a Zoom session at this point. And the film acknowledges all of the Zoom tricks we’ve seen lamely used over and over like changing backgrounds, skins, animations, and videotaped images. While UNFRIENDED, OPEN WINDOWS, and others have attempted to utilize the computer video chat in similar ways, nothing really compares to how masterfully Rob Savage takes advantage of all of the quirks, ticks, complications, and distractions that occur in your average attempt to herd cats to get a successful Zoom call underway. HOST takes place just under an hour, the average time for a session like this to occur. So, it’s a breezy film that rarely takes time to take a breath. Right from the beginning as the host starts the session and invites the rest of the cast, we see little things that suggest something is wrong. The way this escalates from a few small, odd occurrences to a full-scale Armageddon serves as a crucial lesson in pacing, ever-increasing suspense, and developing tension. Structurally, this is a sound film that doesn’t leave a minute to spare from minute one until the end.
While found footage are usually cheaply made films going for the easiest scares and basest of cinematic skill, HOST is everything but. The film is even rich metaphorically as, like the virus that has left us all housebound, the evil spirit seems to be passed on from one participant to the other in the Zoom group as if it were a highly infectious pathogen unleashing terror and death to everything in its path. The film communicates this message pretty clearly and manages to speak a powerful subtext even over the effective use of this now common mode of communication.
The characters all feel absolutely real and authentic. While I haven’t seen these actresses before, they all end up being unique and interesting in their own kooky and different ways. Each of them has good and bad qualities that get highlighted during the hour we see then and all of them are likable, which made me root for them to escape this evil entity all the more.
HOST relies on many a jump scare, with something coming right out at you. I often see this as a cheap trick used by filmmakers to get the heart pumping. It’s a lowest common denominator scare that I usually object to when I see it happen in the latest Blumhouse effort. But for some reason, because this is a film that forces the viewer to engage with the screen so closely through the multiple windows, the jump scares worked almost too well for me every time. Filmmaker Savage is conservative with these shocking moments, only using them after working up the tension to a deafening level. When the shock does come, it is something that blew me back in my chair and almost off my feet. It’s the smart pacing and orchestration of these scares that make these jump scares some of the best you’ll ever see.
I’m kind of late getting in on HOST, as it appears everyone seems to be loving it. But believe me, this is no hype. HOST is genius from a technical, storytelling, acting, and simply scary level. It utilizes something so common and takes it to terrifying levels of horror. The fact that each of the Zoom members created their own effects and performed their own stunts during the filming makes this all the more impressive a feat. Rob Savage has stumbled on a groundbreaking idea and pushed that idea to the max. While it might not be the best film of the year, it is one of the most iconic as it embraces the horror of the moment and takes it to nightmarish extremes. I highly recommend this one. Just see it.
THE 2019-2020 COUNTDOWN!
#10 – HOST
#11 – HARPOON
#12 – GRETEL & HANSEL
#13 – THE HAUNTED
#14 – DOCTOR SLEEP
#15 – DANIEL ISN’T REAL
#16 – THE VAST OF NIGHT
#17 – HOMEWRECKER
#18 – IMPETIGORE
#19 – BUTT BOY
#20 – BECKY
#21 – UNDERWATER
#22 – THE DEAD CENTER
#23 – BLOOD MACHINES
#24 – ALONE
#25 – THE BEACH HOUSE
#26 – AMULET
#27 – LAKE OF DEATH
#28 – SEA FEVER
#29 – THE RENTAL
#30 – ANTRUM: THE DEADLIEST FILM EVER MADE
#31 – REPLACE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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