Shudder original, HOST - *NO SPOILER* review and theories
If you haven’t heard already, Shudder original Host is the quintessential COVID-19 pandemic lockdown horror movie. Here’s a summary directly from Shudder’s website:
Six friends get together during lockdown for their weekly zoom call. It's Haley’s turn to organise an activity and instead of a quiz, she’s arranged for a Medium to conduct a séance. Bored and feeling mischievous, Jemma decides to have some fun and invents a story about a boy in her school who hanged himself. However, her prank gives license for a demonic presence to cross over, taking on the guise of the boy in Jemma’s made-up story. The friends begin noticing strange occurrences in their homes as the evil presence begins to make itself known, and they soon realise that they might not survive the night. A SHUDDER ORIGINAL.
Although the reviews are mostly positive, that wasn’t why I jumped at watching this zoom séance gone wrong. It was the claims of how supposedly scary this movie is that piqued my interest because the truth is this: horror movies don’t tend to scare me. Also, how scary can a Zoom séance be anyway? Well, I’m going to get into that and share some of my other thoughts without spoiling who (if anyone) dies or the ending itself. Yes, I’ll be as precise as I can with my scalpel, but you’ll have to forgive the tremor—I’m just excited.
(PSST! I talk about this & more in my podcast episode Host & Morrington County part 1)
Does Haley have a secret?
In the beginning, I suspect that Haley has a spirit in her apartment and that her idea for a Zoom séance is to interact with it in some way. Barely reacting to stuff exploding out of her closet just screams “ah, just another Tuesday” and I’m not okay with that! Had that happened to me, I’m calling the whole thing off! We can do something else like turn a Buzzfeed quiz into a drinking game. Or, at the bare minimum, tell Seylan the medium: “Hey girl, there was a Gastly running through here earlier and Imma need some help getting it out.”
Could it have just been the consequence of her shoving a bunch of crap into her closet to clean up before video dialing her shady & judgmental friends? Possibly, but I’m not buying it. As everyone is joining and Haley is asked if she’s done this before, she answers “Yes.” Further, when asked if anything has ever happened, again she answers: “Yes.” Mhm Haley, OKAY.
What exactly did Jemma manifest?
Jemma is the second to connect (more on why I hate her later; honestly, it could be its own segment) followed by Emma, Radina & her quarantine bae Allen, Caroline & her exhibitionist father Pat, Teddy & his girlfriend-that-everyone-hates Ginny, Seylan the medium, and you. Yes, you, the viewer.
One of the advantages to computer screen films like this and Unfriended is the feel of immersion via logging in which really adds to the tension. Even the opening and closing credits are designed as a computer screen with open windows! Another advantage that adds to the tension are the multiple session windows—the need to constantly scan each one for oncoming danger is human nature which both subtly disturbs our psyche and fatigues our defenses. And in those glorious moments that we do witness something, we’re painfully scanning even more.
Those and a few other reasons are why I feel that the overall tension is masterfully crafted. Knowing that we’re watching a horror movie naturally puts us on guard from the beginning, anyway. So, we’re constantly aware that something is coming, but we don’t know what, where, or when. And the longer it takes us to find out, the more dread we experience. It also doesn’t help that some foreshadowing and seemingly strange occurrences either reveals to be nothing or go unexplained, which slowly lulls us into a false sense of security; it’s a vulnerable place to be scared shitless. We’re so afraid to let our guard down, and Host does a great job playing with that.
Now for the reason I hate Jemma: maybe she’s like Tinkerbell and if you don’t give her attention she dies, maybe she wasn’t hugged enough as a child (because she certainly wasn’t raised right to be playing around with spirits). But Jemma decides to pretend she feels something touch her, invents a whole ass person, and concocts a tale of this invented person hanging themselves. This lie invites a twelfth member to the party and they’re not an innocent bystander like you, Radina’s quarantine bae, Caroline’s father, or Teddy’s girlfriend; this demonic entity is an active participant.
As I watched Jemma’s invented person manifest, I wondered: did Jemma accidentally manifest a tulpa? Basically, a tulpa is an entity that we manifest from our thoughts. I first learned about them as a kid—let me take a step back—
I loved reading books about the supernatural & paranormal, and learned about some strange things such as tulpas, ghosts, cryptids, and spontaneous human combustion (seriously, complete with ridiculous photos of feet left behind by victims who’d suddenly exploded). Like, Ancient Aliens stuff before there was Ancient Aliens—how did the Egyptians make the pyramids and all the weird stuff around it? Did Amelia Earhart fly through a portal in the Bermuda Triangle? Was the Hope Diamond really cursed, which I bragged about seeing in exhibit at the Smithsonian for years?
Most of the stuff was ridiculous, I knew it then and I know it now. Some of the other stuff however, like mermaids being possible because of how much of Earth’s ocean is unexplored, I believed as a kid. But because of lessons I learned growing up, tulpas always stuck out for me.
My parents taught me that God spoke us into existence & that we were made in his image; as a result, we too can speak things into existence and should be careful with what we say. Tulpas seem to fit this idea. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen this “our words are powerful” ideology outside of the belief system I was raised in. So, one of the lessons I received from Host was that our words are powerful, and we should be careful with what we say. Go figure.
The tulpa, or whatever is was, being a hanged man is something else I found interesting. Especially since, if you remember me counting earlier, that made it the twelfth member and the Hanged Man tarot card is the twelfth major arcana. Now, I still don’t know much about the tarot, so I had to look up exactly what that card represents, and this is what I got:
The Hanged Man is directly in the middle of the major arcana and one of the three most important cards, with the beginning and end. The words “man” and “mind” both derive from “manas,” which means “to think.” So, this card could also be considered The Hanged or Suspended Mind.
The most popular art for the card, from the Rider Waite tarot deck, depicts a man hung or suspended by a rope tied around his foot from a tree. However, he seems at peace with it. According to the School of Oracles: his crossed legs form a cross and the clasped hands behind his back form a triangle, which is the inverted symbol for sulfur and the self-transmutation in alchemy. So, what does this all mean?
Well, when right-side up, the Hanged Man is a sign to let go and allow change to come—new changes in our lives require a sacrifice to move forward. However, when Hanged Man is reversed (like how the entity in Host appears), according to Biddy Tarot it’s a sign of the following:
You need to hit the pause button, but you are resisting it. Instead, you fill your days with tasks and projects, keeping busy and distracting yourself from the actual issue that needs your attention. Your spirit and body are asking you to slow down, but your mind keeps racing. Stop and rest before it’s too late.
They also go on to say:
“You may already be in a position where everything has been put on hold, much to your frustration.”
Be in flow with life, even if it’s not as you expected it.
So, what does this all have to do with the movie? Let’s put it into perspective:
This COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is a position where everything has been put on hold and it is very frustrating. We can relate to the characters in Host for that very reason. And the thought of being in flow with life right now is difficult because everything’s not as we expected it—everything is different. However, we do need to hit the pause button, stop resisting it, and reflect. Instead of being a busy body, stay home as much as you can to protect your health and focus on your well-being, healing, and personal growth. For real, your spirit & body do need it. Still your racing mind, stop, and rest before it really is too late. There’s another lesson I received from this film.
Final thoughts & rating
My overall rating of Host is a 4.5 out of 5; it’s excellent although I wish they would have named it something else since there are so many movies with that title already. But I digress—I suggest you watch if you haven’t already. It’s short and, funny enough, the length of a Zoom call which I think is cool. Bobby Torrez, one of the YouTuber’s I follow (you should check him out, by the way) did a video on Host and talks about watching it on your computer, with headphones on, alone in the dark, and with the lights off. Yes, do that—it’ll give you the best experience. Also, turn the volume all the way up—you’ll thank me later. Afterwards, find me on Twitter @brotherghoulish and let me know what you think!
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