At the time of writing this article 'Host' currently holds a 100% fresh rating on the Tomatometer over at highly rated film review site Rotten Tomatoes. RT scores are not something that necessarily impresses us here however the general response to 'Host' has been overwhelmingly positive with Dread Central even claiming on Day 1 of release that 'Host' was as important as 'The Blair Witch Project'. That's quite a statement to make and whether or not you think that's hyperbole or truth, the reality is that it is simply impossible not to be impressed by a film that only took 12 weeks to finish, from conception to distribution. Oh and it all came together during an unprecedented national lockdown.
The man behind 'Host' is Rob Savage, an English writer/director who debuted his first film, a micro budget feature film called 'Strings', at the Rome Film Festival. After 'Strings' got picked up by Vertigo Films, it got a wide release by BFI and Savage won a BIFA and was hailed as a Star of Tomorrow. Well tomorrow has finally arrived and the world is finally starting to discover Rob’s amazing talent.
Having continued to hone his skill on short films, Rob gained some noteworthy acclaim with his 2016 short ‘Dawn of the Deaf’, which he co-wrote with Jed Shepherd. Starring future 'Host' favourites Caroline Ward, Radina Drandova and Haley Bishop, ‘Dawn of the Deaf’ follows a group of deaf people in the lead up to a mysterious sonic pulse infection who end up being the only survivors. At just over 11 minutes long it works extremely well as a sort of origins story to a zombie apocalypse film. But the acutely emotional performances from the actors, especially from Caroline Ward, is what really makes it stand out. The subway scene that features Haley, Radina and a horde of extras (most of them were Rob’s Facebook friends) is particularly memorable for how gorgeous it looks and how well it was put together by Rob and cinematographer Sam Heasman. The film is super original in it’s set-up and has some really creepy moments which are best experienced wearing headphones with the sound up as loud as your ears will allow. ‘Dawn of the Deaf’ would go on to receive official selections at over 40 film festivals throughout 2016 and 2017 and win various ‘Best Short Film’ awards.
You can watch it here https://vimeo.com/221591368
Rob and Jed’s writing partnership would flourish further with their next horror short entitled ‘Salt’. Starring the always amazing Alice Lowe as a caring mother doing all that she can to protect her ill daughter from an ominously, invisible demon presence. 'Salt' is only 2 minutes long and is even more contained than 'Dawn of the Deaf' (there’s one singular set piece) but it’s insanely tense, moody and bursting with exciting, elaborate conceptual ideas that could be fleshed out to the perfect 85 minute runtime for a clever, tight horror feature film.
You can watch it here https://vimeo.com/297057335
After dabbling in television Rob and his writing team began working on a project set up by Sam Raimi’s production company and then Covid-19 hit and a national lockdown was soon put into place. The script is reportedly done but filming won’t begin for that until well into 2021. Resigned to their own environments, Rob and his “Quarantine Movie Club” pals, like all of the nation, kept in touch by using a relatively new video chat platform called Zoom and this got Rob’s creative juices flowing. Rob, with some devious co-ordination from Jed, performed an elaborate prank on his pals (involving a suspicious noise and an accidental fall from his own attic) which was the inspiration for the premise behind 'Host'. The prank video was posted on Youtube and went viral instantly, catching the eyes of some eager producers. Shudder contacted Rob with an opportunity. According to Jed their pitch wasn’t some intricate kaleidoscope of ideas. It was simply two words...zoom séance. Shudder loved the idea and the rest is history. 'Host' was conceived, written, produced, filmed, edited and distributed in 12 weeks. That’s mental!
'Host' quickly became a phenomenon with horror film fans and horror legends like Stephen King and Barbara Crampton shouting from the rooftops about it. It’s easily one of the year’s most talked about films and proved that even during a global pandemic, talented creative people can still produce highly entertaining content. We were honoured to interview writer and executive producer Jed Shepherd and one of the film’s leading ladies Emma Louise Webb for our weekly show Monday Night Frights. During our chat Jed admitted that there wasn’t a script initially and that the film was a collaborative idea from he and co-writer Gemma Hurley. They started with a 17 page “beat-sheet”. They knew where the girls would start and where they would finish but it was up to them to get to that finish line.
“That allowed them to improv (with) natural conversations. Rob’s directing style was to point them in the right direction but let them say what they want. A lot of the best lines were from the girls themselves. ” - Jed Shepherd (Co-Writer/Executive Producer)
'Host' may be a small budget horror film with a relatively small cast but the fact that it was made during an unprecedented lockdown that required everyone to be apart from each other is just almost impossible to believe. With the restrictions and insurmountable limitations that the team had to work with, they were really pushed to indulge every single fibre of their creativity during the filming process. In fact the actors had to shoot their own footage on personal iPhones and do all their own lighting and sound set-ups. Jed revealed during our chat that there are “tons and tons and tons” of cleverly hidden cuts to “various different houses and locations.”
“Emma's house is five different houses. Emma’s kitchen is Rob’s (actual real-life) kitchen. That’s what you have to do during lockdown when you can’t get to locations.”
Emma also revealed that it is actually Rob’s hand that reaches out to try to touch the floating mask towards the end. The cast posted loads of behind-the-scenes pictures on their Twitter feeds recently to help celebrate the cinema release of the film.
Rob clearly had to rely on a lot of other very talented crew to help bring this project together but as the director, the responsibility lies solely on him when it comes to getting the job done and getting the film delivered on time. He has proven unequivocally that he is a powerhouse of talent waiting to explode on the rest of the world. Rob is currently filming the first of three Blumhouse produced films and with a potential 'Dawn of the Deaf' feature film looming in his future and that upcoming Sam Raimi project, it’s clear that the horror genre won’t be forgetting the name Rob Savage anytime soon.
Be sure to check out our chat with Jed and Emma as, amongst other things, Jed teases what to expect from the upcoming Blumhouse film and Emma gives away some of the secrets to how the stunts were performed and also talks about some real life on-set spookies that happened. Check out the episode here HOST Q&A
- Gavin Logan