EVIL is in the Waiting Room. “Host” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)

Six friends, locked down due to COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, hold a séance with a medium over a video chat platform.  With some skeptical of the astral plane practice and connivingly mock the ritual without aware of the consequences, they unwittingly call forth a false spirit under the guise of their seemingly harmless mockery.  In short, a malevolent demon crosses over their spiritual internet connection plane, attaching itself to their domicile surroundings.  Unable to break the connection to the spirit world, surviving a night that was supposed to shoulder quarantine boredom with excitement and booze has beleaguered the friends with a night of undisclosed deadly terror.

When online game night during quarantine life goes horribly wrong in Rob Savage’s “Host.”  The UK bred survival tech-horror is the sophomore feature length film from Savage who co-wrote the cast sundered script with Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, who has previously collaborated with Savage on the director’s short films, “Salt” and “Dawn of the Deaf.”  “Host” plays into being a film of the moment, shot entirely over the pandemic lockdown with unconventional production direction conducted through video chat platforms with each actor pent-up performing in their own personal abode and being subjected to wear multiple crew hats to avoid spreading COVID-19 from face-to-face interactions.  Despite the severe limited enforced by the threat of infection and the local governmental mandates, the film received hefty financial backing from horror’s most prolific streaming service Shudder after director Rob Savage pulls off a video chat prank with colleagues and friends of him checking out a mysterious sound in his antic and seamlessly interlacing a jump scare clip from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza’s “REC” that scared the bejesus out of the unsuspecting participants to his prank.  “Host” is a production of Shadowhouse Films. 

“Host” stars five real life friends, aspiring actresses in the London area looking for work that has become frighteningly scarce in the pandemic’s wake, and they’re joined by a sixth, the outlier male to join the virtual hangout session.  To add authenticity to the circumstances, each actress has their parent-given (or stage-made?) names incorporated into the film, heightening the illusion of a friend being ripped apart by a demonic entity, especially if a sly Rob Savage redacts much of the script to keep his actors in the dark in certain scenes to garner real reactions.  Haley Bishop, who has worked previously with Savage on “Dawn of the Dead,” spearheads the nighttime gathering for a little séance fun, to stave boredom with her closest friends, with prearranged invitations to Jemma Moore (“Doom:  Annihiliation”), Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, and Edward Linard, who is the only one of the six not to use his actual name and goes by Teddy.  Each character provides a slight unique viewpoint that integrates into the story nicely, such as Jemme’s jokester and cavalier attitude, Caroline’s bracing for the supernatural consequences, Radina’s distracted relationship troubles, and Teddy’s wild and carefree persona.  “Host” rounds out with minor co-stars enveloped into the séance chaos, including Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, and “Double Date’s” James Swanton as the malevolent spirit.

Cyber and social media horror has no leverage to be groundbreaking horror anymore as a handful of these subgenre jaunts slip into our visual feeds every year in the last decade and “Host,” on the surface, might perpetuate the long line of outputted tech horror in an overcrowded market.  However, “Host” has a beauty about it that doesn’t reach into capitalistic territories like the ill-conceived “Corona Zombies” from Full Moon or the Michael Bay-produced “Songbird” about sustaining love in the time of dystopian pandemic and, instead, redefines how tech horror not only uses innovated methods in creating movies during lockdown but how the knuckle white and teeth chattering terror is perceived in the reinvention of the ominous presence that has found its way through the fiber optic cables and into our cyber lives not in the context of a social media obsessed society but in a quarantine-forced one that brings a whole unique set of isolation fears and complications.  While the characters try to form a much desired human interaction the best way that they can through internet video chats, they’re also connected by the spiritual circle that has engulfed the apart, but together, connection, sparking a palpable atmosphere of mass fear together.  Audiences will be pulled into this fear being visually privy to Haley desktop screen, that’s not quite tipping into the found footage field, as she helms control of the video chat that quickly spirals into a Zoom-screen of death as one-by-one each friend succumbs to the unwittily summoned demon.  Rob Savage has reformed the tech horror genre much like George Romero had revamped the zombie on not so much a social commentary level, but vitalizing new life into it, making “Host” a game-changer in horror. 

While I wasn’t lucky enough to review Second Sight Film’s Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset of Rob Savage’s “Host,” dropping today, February 22nd in the United Kingdom, housed in a rigid slipcase with illustrated artwork from Thomas Walker with an original story outline booklet, new essays from Ella Kemp and Rich Johnson, and 6 collectible art cards inside, I was graciously provided a BD-R that included the film as well as the bonus content.  The region B, PAL encoded, just under an hour runtime film, clocking at 57 minutes, is nearly shot entirely on Zoom that melds in the position of negative space inside tightly confined camera optics and plays right into the hands of dark spots that the optics can’t entirely define, leaving the space void in a blanket of inky black.  From video to audio, the sound design meshes the natural auditory blights that would conventionally spoil audio tracks for the sound department, but Savage and Calum Sample found the mic static or the distorted or near cancelation of sound during a high pitched screams added elements of grounded fear rooted by technology to where people can relate to when having their own video chat technical difficulties during meetings or such while also playing into the theme with funny face filters, augmented backgrounds, and the bells and whistles of the platform. Second Sight’s slew of special features for this limited edition boxset includes exclusive commentaries with director Rob Savage, producer Douglas Cox, and the cast, cast interviews about their individual takes on the film, a behind-the-scenes feature, Rob Savage’s group prank video that sowed the seed for the film, the same prank done on a single individual, Kate, Rob Savage’s short films – “Dawn of the Deaf” and “Salt,” the actual Séance held by the cast, crew, and a real life medium, a British Film Institute Q&A with the director, Gemma Hurley, Jed Shepherd, Douglas Cox, Haley Bishop, Brenna Rangott, and Caroline Ward, and an evolution of horror interview with cast and crew. The best horror movie of 2020 now has the best release of 2021 from Second Sight Films; “Host” logons to be the heart clutching video call from hell.

Own “Host” on Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from Second Sight Films by clicking the poster!

The Only Way EVIL Would Go Out With a Virgin! “Double Date” review!


Recently dumped and severely panicked around women, the prospect of ever dating again seems like a long shot to Jim. Self-assured Alex sees the opposite for his best mate as a golden opportunity for him to get Jim laid before his 30th birthday. When Alex finally coerces and assists Jim on scoring a double date with two sisters, Jim can’t believe his stuttering awkwardness actually proved fruitful, but little do Jim and Alex know that the sisters, Kitty and Lulu, are out for blood. The sisters seek a virgin to sacrifice to bring their long deceased father back from the dead and to complete their trio-family once again at the expense of Jim’s involuntary celibate lifestyle. Night clubs, fast cars, and visits to the parents take the four through a series of dark and drug fueled misadventures and the unexpected moment of falling love that makes this double date one to die for!

First dates are always inherently frightening. The idea of being alone with a stranger, who you’re kind of attractive to and trying to impress, yet don’t really know a single thing about them, can be daunting, if not paralyzing. First date in a double date is supposed to ease that overwhelming fear and take the strain off from the lack of possible interest in the other person, but for director Benjamin Barfoot’s amusing horror-comedy, “Double Date,” all bets are off and all tensions are on edge when dating goal sights are deadly different. Danny Morgan pens a comedic gem in which he stars as the bumbling virgin, Jim, joining his long time collaborating partner, Barfoot, to complete their first feature film together. The British made and produced film gives glimpses of London’s fung shui through the pubs, clubs, and overall eclectic nightlife to the aristocratic mansion homes to the likes of “Downton Abbey” resulting in a slight blend of the past and present into a well-oiled story embodied with terror and fun.

Funny man Danny Morgan stars as the awkward and blundering Jim whose plagued with fumbling qualities around women that usually leaves him somewhere in the inner circle of the friend zone. Morgan brilliant showcases Jim’s stunting inadequacies that eventually come to flower while maintaining a solid naturally slapstick presence of self-deprecation that turns into a full-blown bull in a china shop. The scene with his parents and himself singing his birthday song in front Lulu in audience, while tripping on drugs, is cathartically enjoyable and a riot of inner laughter. Morgan’s joined by “Being Human” actor, Michael Socha, as Jim’s very good friend, but all talk confident friend, Alex. Alex is certainly the yang to Jim’s yin on screen and off screen as Morgan and Socha have a certifiably fresh dynamic that makes them very entertaining to digest. Socha brings a different kind of comical energy that compliments Morgan’s dry humor that diversifies the content. In fact, all the characters bring a little something different to the table, such as with the sisters, Kitty and Lulu, played respectively by Kelly Wenham (“Dracula: The Dark Prince”) and Georgia Groome (“The Cottage”). Training like an elite athlete, Wenham takes the role to heart being a dark and beautiful villain that’s inarguably alluring as she’s cold and deadly. The Cheshire born actress, whom hands down can be the next Megan Fox, sinks her teeth into the performance and excels in the physical role that’s showcases her range of talent. Then, there’s Georgie Groome as Lulu, the timid opposite of Kitty. Also known as the girlfriend of Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint, she nails being the one in the shadows, relinquishing control mostly to Wenham for most of the film, and then slowly build character confidence and strength.

“Double Date” is a great blend of horror and comedy. The climax has this satirical and retro quality about that seems unfitting, but is stitched carefully to fit without bursting and popping a seam (or scene?) to the point of overly obtrusive. Benjamin Barfoot also has a keen eye to capture the pivotal and incandescent moments that make scenarios have more an impact, whether that being a facial expression, an awkward dance, or any kind of verbal or action exchange between characters. Doesn’t hurt that Barfoot’s rapport with Danny Morgan is a relationship riding the same director-actor level plane, similar to the dynamics between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, with a synonymous cerebral synergy that clicks well for the silver screen.

From the independent film company who delivered “The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot,” Sparky Pictures releases the Screen International/FrighFest awarding winning horror-comedy, “Double Date”, onto digital, DVD, and Blu-ray come September 9th in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, an in-depth review of the video and audio specifications will not be covered as a BD screener disc was provided, but what can be said about the soundtrack, performed by GOAT, is pure primitive gold and the appearance by Big Narstie is equally solid. Bonus material, on this check disc, included an extensive behind-the-scenes, from conception to wrap, of Danny Morgan and Benjamin Barfoot’s roller-coasting adventure on getting their film made. There’s also a commentary with cast and crew, deleted scenes, photo gallery, and trailers. “Double Date” is a true black comedy and a whole lot of fun that should skyrocket filmmakers Danny Morgan and Benjamin Barfoot toward future endeavors as a rising, powerhouse duo, contending to be the next hit in the satirical category.

Amazon has Double Date! Own it today!