- review by Ellis Reed
As if to make up for the awful weather, this week saw the release of Hosts: a beautifully shot home invasion thriller, written and directed by Adam Leader and Richard Oakes. The film premiered at the 2020 October FrightFest, where it won solid word of mouth and the prize for “Best Death”.
To address the elephant in the room, this isn’t a sequel to Host, so we won’t have to endure the disappointment of Host³ or Host: Resurrection. The similar names are just a coincidence; Hosts was in the can (and listed on IMDb) before the UK-wide lockdown that inspired Host. Still, as Oakes told Ginger Nuts of Horror: “there’s no issue there… aside from the title there aren’t many similarities, other than them both being kick-ass horrors.”
Now we know what the film isn’t, let’s talk about what it actually is. Our tale begins on Christmas Eve. Jack (Neal Ward) and Lucy (Samantha Loxley) are bracing themselves for dinner with the neighbours. Before they go, Lucy sees some strange blue lights in the garden—and when Jack goes to investigate, things quickly take a turn for the weird. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that, by the time they arrive at the neighbours’ house, Jack and Lucy are acting very strangely indeed…
Since Hosts is a brand-new release, it’s important not to give the game away, but we can certainly say that it’s a claustrophobic, almost totally housebound horror, with Ward and Loxley playing the villains. Their unsuspecting hosts are Michael (Frank Jakeman), his wife (Jennifer K. Preston), two adult offspring (Lee Hunter and Nadia Lamin), and one youngster (Buddy Skelton). The exact nature of the threat is teased throughout, with an intriguing mix of biblical allusions and sci-fi motifs to keep you guessing. The dialogue veers towards the former, but the visual flourishes—including some brilliant use of blue light—are very much suggestive of the latter.
Oakes and Leader already had a fanbase through their Youtube channel, which meant they were able to crowdfund the production by offering subscribers a meaningful stake in it (see, for instance, New Horror Express for details). Despite this indie approach, Hosts is a very polished feature. Oakes completely remodelled his own home for the shoot, making great use of the gloomy red corridor, loft with triangular beams, and dining room filled with trophies. Oakes and Leader also make music videos, so their début looks and sounds as stylish as you might expect. It’s a great example of what talented filmmakers can achieve with some hard work and their own resources.
Hosts is also a showcase for some very memorable scenes of horror. You’ll see a big one coming a mile off—which is done on purpose, to add a dash of pitch-black humour—but the execution is still shocking. In fact, Horror Channel described it as “the most brutal table scene since Robert De Niro played Al Capone in The Untouchables.” The violence includes some nicely done practical effects, but it’s worth stressing that Hosts has more to offer than simple gore. There are a couple of very eerie visuals, and the deaths are shocking for emotional rather than purely visceral reasons.
In terms of acting, the whole cast brings a level of quality that’s often lacking from independent horror. Ward and Loxley clearly have some fun as the villains, dripping with menace (and at one point drool) while they torment their captives. Jakeman deserves a special mention for his work as Michael, and for me, the most surprising performance came from Hunter. His character is introduced as an annoying man-child, but the script takes him on a real journey, letting him showcase his range.
The only caveat boils down to a matter of taste rather than quality. By design, Hosts is a film that lingers on the mind and lets you reach your own conclusions. As Oakes told Ginger Nuts of Horror, “our favourite films are the ones that don’t give you all the answers… we wanted to create conversations and theories about the non-spoken elements of the film.” According to Leader, “there’s a time and place for handing people things on a plate, and there’s a time and place for leaving things open to interpretation… the unknown is scary!” As a viewer, I was content with my own reading of events and enjoyed the film from start to finish. If you’re in the mood to make a prediction and then find out if you were right, you might not get that kind of closure. It focusses on a series of terrible events, rather than unravelling the exact details of the mystery behind them.
If you accept that style of storytelling, there’s every reason to enjoy watching the film and picking over it afterwards (you can even do it with a friend to pit your theories against each other). Hosts might be light on detailed lore, but the mounting horror is unambiguous, and so too are the characters’ responses. It’s a very stylish film with great production and multiple stand-out scenes, so it gets a solid thumbs-up from us. Recommended!