Director: Adam Leader, Richard Oakes
Cast: Neal Ward, Nadia Lamin, Frank Jakeman, Samantha Loxley, Lee Hunter, Jennifer K Preston, Buddy Skelton
Run Time: 89mins
“Hosts” is a brand new British horror. Not to be confused with breakout Shudder hit Host (or the mystery-horror “The Host” from earlier in the year). As titles aside, they have nothing in common, the latter being a neat updating on the found-footage formula (a kind of pandemic Paranormal Activity) while this film is more of a mash-up. Mixing as it does body-snatching horror, home invasion movies and social realist drama. Imagine “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” meets “The Strangers” but directed by Ken Loach and you are someway there.
The movie is also a classic example of the less you known, the better. Not so much in terms of plot, but more in terms of scares. And boy is there some scares here. More on that later, though. First what we can tell you is the basic set-up which sees a couple Jack (Neal Ward) and Lucy (Samantha Loxley) go over to their neighbours for a Xmas dinner. Little did the neighbours know that Jack and Lucy have been possessed by an unknown entity (represented by glowing blue orbs) and are about to become very unpleasant guests indeed.
Before we get there though, the filmmakers make an excellent job of making you empathise with Jack and Lucy’s predicament. In a very short space of time it establishes them as a sweet, caring couple and it is genuinely tough to see them turn monstrous by the weird blue orbs that possess them.
Similarly, well set-up are the family the couple will go onto menace. Particular jovial patriarch Michael (Frank Jakeman) who you suspect may be hiding something behind all his banter. His mildly irritating jokester son Eric (Lee Hunter) and snarky daughter Lauren (Nadia Lamin) are also well drawn. On the flip-side mother Cassie (Jennifer K Preston) and youngest son Ben (Buddy Skelton) seem thinly sketched.
Also, thinly sketched are the entities that possess Jack and Lucy. Given the film remains stubbornly ambiguous on the origins and motives of this possessive force. And while it is good, there is no audience spoonfeeding here the complete lack of explanation can be frustrating. In fact, maybe it would be better if there was a total absence of explanation as the minor breadcrumbs that this may be an ecological backlash or some kind of biblical vengeance only makes the ambiguity more frustrating.
Conversely, though, the fact we are as much in the dark as the family being preyed on only adds to the terror on display. As it is in the scares that “Hosts” really flies. Believe us when we say this film has one of the most wince-inducing moments of violence in a British horror since “Kill List.” The scene is a brilliant example of tension building and it is brutal as anything you will see this year. A shame then: it is undercut by the cynical (some would say borderline exploitative) use of a serious subject which is deployed only to increase the shock value of the scene.
Make no mistake this a taut, brutal, unrelenting piece of horror. Throughout its 90 minute running time co-directors Adam Leader and Richard Oakley show themselves to be highly proficient in jump scares. Not only that, the pair also show a real flair for manipulating negative space as there are several unnerving sequences where we suddenly realise a character has been there longer than we assumed. This flair is even more impressive given this is the duo’s debut feature.
The scares and the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere (most of the film takes place in the family’s home) may be the film greatest strength but it is not the only ones. The cast is another key strength. Nearly everyone is strong in their role and making you invest in their character. Particularly good though are Ward and Lamin. Ward for the brilliant way he transforms from the soft-hearted pre-possession Jack to the utterly monstrous post-possession Jack. And Lamin for turning a potentially irritating character into a relatable and rootable one.
“Hosts” and “Host” may have very little in common, but they are both outstanding examples of how fertile the current British horror scene is.
Overall: Some quibbles aside, this is an impressive directorial debut and mark Leader and Oakes as names to look out for on the horror scene
Hosts is now available on VOD/Digital