The horror genre is, above all else, a call and response genre.
Culture develops a fear, a communal specter that hovers above us. But, unlike in the past, during our nomadic years, these fears cannot truly be processed by our evolutionary fight or flight response. During those early times, fear was a survival tactic. It would feed your body adrenaline, it would increase your heart rate, it would help you survive a direct threat.
Now our fears are more opaque, they can’t be solved by fight or flight.
That is what the horror genre developed from.
When fears shifted from an imminent predator into economic failures, nuclear threats, civil unrest, the fight or flight response never truly dissipated. We are always on edge, our body creating the stress that is intended to facilitate survival at a nonstop pace. And it can eat us alive.
Horror films respond to these fears, they provide an outlet. They let the endorphins, the adrenaline, rise to the surface in an environment our cognitive mind knows is safe. It is a loophole in evolution.
Horror is necessary.
Never is that more exemplified and demonstrated than in the new film by director Rob Savage, ‘Host.’
‘Host’ is a direct response to the call of the pandemic that we are currently struggling through.
It uses the environment and faculties of our world and manifests the terror of it all in a way that is somehow equal parts fun, thrilling, and terrifying.
The success of the narrative, pacing, and storytelling aside, the logistics of this new pandemic filmmaking is awe inspiring. The film, and the making of it, shows the innovation and creativity that makes the arts such an example of human ingenuity.
Much like ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ the filmmaking style was born out of necessity. The plot, the approach, the execution, all exist because of limitations in the real world. And, again, much like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ it thrives with those limitations and proves that storytelling is not dependent on a specific set of conditions or funding. It proves that art will always find a way.
The horror of ‘Host’ is cathartic. It is the horror of social distancing, of being alone, of being robbed of the one thing we most desire, human contact. The monster of the film could be argued to be a thinly veiled metaphor for COVID. It haunts them and thrives on the one thing they all desire through their fear, to not be alone, to not be distanced.
It could be argued that the terror would stop if the online meeting was ended. If they all disconnected, the monster may not be able to move from home to home. But they can’t do that, they can’t be alone. The fear won’t allow it.
The film also just works as a tactile, simple haunted house ride. It is viscerally thrilling; triggering our communal fight or flight instinct with glorious outlets of slow tension and eventual jump scares.
This is a film that physically affected me. I was exhausted after the credits rolled, my muscles rubbery and my breath short. I even screamed out loud at a film for the first time as an adult.
But I also had a huge smile on my face.
Because this is what horror is, what it is designed for. It is there to help us all cope. It is a safe place to therapeutically visit our fears.
Time may prove my wrong, but I believe that ‘Host’ will be a movie we all discuss and study for decades to come. It is a movie of its time, and it captures and responds to that time with skill and love.
The maker of ‘Host’ has heard our call and their response is exactly what we all needed right now.