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!

Its Bloggin’ Evil Interviews I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’s Harley Neville!

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“Harley Neville is an Actor, Poet and Producer, his feature film credits include supporting roles in Second Hand Wedding and Older as well as lead roles in the films Ghost TV and most recently I Survived a Zombie Holocaust in which his performance received rave reviews from critics. Harley is one half of the filmmaking duo ‘Pigville Productions’ alongside Writer/Director Guy Pigden, together they have been creating content for 17 years, including two feature films. They are also YouTubers with 20,000 subscribers and more than 11 million views.

As a poet Harley has performed at TEDxRuakura and is a 2016 Auckland Slam finalist and his poems continue to find an audience online.”

I wanted to say first that I’m a big fan of “I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” (as you can my positive review here) and all of its actors and crew.

Lets get this interview started:

How were you approached (or coerced) to star in “ISAZH?”

Guy and I had been creating content together for about 10 years by the time we applied for the funding so the character was actually written with me in mind to play it, however that didn’t guarantee me the role, Guy had a say in the casting but ultimately it was the Producer that needed to be convinced and from her perspective I wasn’t necessarily the best person to carry a feature film, I was relatively inexperienced and I think that being ‘Guy’s friend’ actually worked against me because that was all the Producer could see when she looked at me. However I did 2-3 auditions and managed to convince everyone that I was the man for the job. The stakes were quite high for me because if I didn’t get the role of Wesley Pennington then there wasn’t really any other roles that I would have been suitable for, I would have been relegated to a small one or two line part.

Was funding very difficult to obtain for this zombie-comedy?

Yes it was, in fact it is the only funding we have ever received for any of our productions in nearly 17 years of filmmaking, it was a long, drawn out process that required a very in-depth proposal, we had to do a full budget as if we had the money already, we had to create video content saying who we were and what we had done, mood reels, a full script, character breakdowns etc, it was months and months of full time work.

What did you do to prepare for the role of Wesley Pennington, a dreamer and optimistic horror nerd who has just secured his first job on set as a runner? Comedy seems to come natural for you, did that help Wesley obtain his quirkiness?

I approach acting the same way I approach women, I walk up, I say my lines, and I leave before security ask me to. Just kidding. Mostly. Physically for Wesley I had to lose some weight so I was doing a lot of boxing, I was very poor at the time so my diet mostly consisted of toast, but somehow that worked for me. As far as preparation for the character goes, I like to know my lines inside out so I did a lot of rehearsal with Guy and the other actors, beyond that I simply let Wesley shine through, when the cameras were rolling it was almost as if he was possessing me a little bit..

Did the cast and crew tease you when shooting some of the more embarrassing and awkward scenes, such as your sex scene with Jocelyn Christian?

The cast and crew were far too busy to be giving me grief! We were on quite a tight schedule which meant that everyone always had something important to do, that being said we did all develop a great camaraderie. We actually had to shoot the sex scene twice, so if you look at how hairy my body is in that scene you will notice ‘back hair continuity’ issues, that is because the first time we shot it I wasn’t at full-power hairy because I had manscaped some weeks before the shoot, but when we shot pickups for it months later my body hair was fully grown. If you go back and have a look you will see what I am talking about!

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Harley Neville and Jocelyn Christian


Wesley is a very demanding and physical role with a lot of sticky gore effects, was it difficult to stay in character sometimes?

No, it wasn’t really a problem for me to stay in character for a couple of reasons, one was that it was at the time the biggest role I had ever had in my life so I was very happy to be there and took it very seriously, it was important to me that other people on set saw me as a reliable and passionate actor that would get the job done, I also had to prove to the Producers that they had made the right decision!
The second reason I was so focused was because I was personally invested in the production through my relationship with Writer/Director Guy Pigden, I would talk to him outside of the shoot and get the inside information on how things were going and what areas needed more time, so because I understood how time-sensitive the shoot was I did my best to nail every take. There was one take when I got shot in the eye with a brain cannon that was far too powerful and far too close to my head, the lens of Wesley’s glasses popped out and hit me in the eyeball, it felt like I had been punched in the face! I stayed in character as best as I could, however there was no chance of me delivering my next lines, I was in agony, so instead I just whimpered and cringed like Wesley would until they called cut.

How’s working with director Guy Pigden? This was Pigden’s first feature film; how was the director on set as far as confidence, direction, and stylistic creativity? Did you also throw in your two cents into the creativity?

Guy is great to work with, he always has a very strong vision but is also open to suggestions, which can be a difficult combination to find! On set he was confident and was definitely in charge, it was great to see this young, first time Director taking control of hundreds of people, I am very proud of how he held himself. Unfortunately due to the budgetary and time constraints he didn’t get much time for stylistic creativity, often times we were so far behind schedule that he just had to get what he could and move on, fortunately he always found time to rehearse with the actors before a scene which is why the performances are all so great. I put my two cents into the creativity but mostly in the writing process, months before we were on set.

You and Guy seem to have built up a strong relationship in the last 17 years, putting out a self titled mini-series television show together and a weekly podcast amongst other content. How did that relationship come about?

Guy and I met when we were 13, at first he didn’t like me but eventually we became best friends, when were were 16 we shot our first short film, it was a zombie comedy called ‘Superstition Bites’, we filmed it on a Hi8 camcorder and Guy edited it on two VCR’s, after that we continued creating content together and with each project we learned something new and honed our art a little bit more. We continue to be best friends and create content together to this very day.

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Neville and Guy Pigden

Why do you think New Zealand horror is so far and few in between or so under the radar?

I think the problem is that New Zealand is a small country at the bottom of the world, we have four million people here so the film industry is actually quite small, which means that securing funding to shoot a local horror is difficult. I think due to our small population the people that hold the purse strings are more inclined to invest in content that is more likely to see a financial return, so we have an abundance of really shit reality shows and very little good, original, scripted local content.

American audiences don’t seem to be enamoured with New Zealand horror. What did the “ISAZH” team try to accomplish to appeal to audiences Stateside, if any?

Often times New Zealand cinema tries too hard to be ‘Kiwi’, the result is a lot of cringeworthy content that doesn’t appeal to either international audiences or local ones. We didn’t go into this film with a particular country in mind, we wanted to tell a universal story that happened to be set in New Zealand, ironically I think this is what helped increase our appeal to American audiences, the USA is the place where ISAZH has been the most widely distributed of any country so far, in fact it is playing on Showtime at the time of this interview which is a premium cable channel.

What can you tell us about “No Caller ID?” Do you think the story will go from short to full feature if received well?

No Caller ID just screened at Screamfest in Los Angeles, I attended and it was an amazing screening, people seemed to really love it. It was so nice to see a cinema full of people jumping and screaming on cue. The reviews have been universally excellent, the worst rating we have had so far is 4/5 Stars.
The interesting thing about ‘No Caller ID’ is that it is actually part of our second feature film ‘Older‘ which will be out in 2017. Older is a Drama/Romance about an aspiring filmmaker that released his first film and it was a smash hit, however despite it making a lot of money it was critically panned, and he hates it. We needed to show a couple of scenes of this ‘film within a film’ but instead of shooting just a few scenes we decided to shoot a standalone short film with the hope that it would turn out well and we could submit it to festivals. We succeeded! I don’t think the story will ever be developed into a feature film, but never say never!

YYou, Jocelyn, and Guy have teamed up once again with “No Caller ID.” Was this because of the chemistry with “ISAZH?”

We teamed up with Joce again because she is a great actor, easy to work with and a good friend of ours, she actually went to high school with us and starred in our second ever short film when we were 17, Guy and I really wanted to find a way to get her into ‘Older’ and we realised a great way to do that would be to cast her as the lead in ‘No Caller ID’

Are there horror projects coming up in the near future for Harley and team?

We are still deciding what our next project will be but there is talk of shooting a horror set in the world of New Zealand gang culture, watch this space! If people would like to keep an eye on our future projects please go to the Pigville Productions Facebook page.

What are your top three horror movies of all time?

I really enjoyed Rec, 28 Days Later and The Grudge (Japanese version)

I appreciate your time in between being a producer, actor, writer, poet, and a great beard enthusiast. Would you like to add anything in conclusion?

Guy Pigden and I do a weekly podcast called The Guy and Harley Podcast, it is about love, life and loss in the pursuit of filmmaking glory..

If people would like to keep up with my career please add me on Facebook and subscribe to us on YouTube.

Thanks!

Harley

“I Survived a Zombie Holocaust” trailer

“No Caller ID” teaser trailer

“Older” trailer