Hosts begins on Christmas Eve, as patriarch, Michael (Frank Jakeman), returns from hunting fowl, his wife, Cassie (Jennifer K. Preston), is now preparing for their meal. Their children are also there – their youngest is Ben (Buddy Skelton); their only daughter is Lauren (Nadia Lamin); their older son is Eric (Lee Hunter) – as well as their neighbors, Jack (Neal Ward) and Lucy (Samantha Loxley).
During dinner, Cassie shares some good news when suddenly, Lucy pulls out a hammer and bashes her brains all over the wall. The couple then attacks and tortures the other four family members. Luckily, Lauren escapes to the surrounding woods, though she’s determined to rescue her family. Why are Jack and Lucy doing this? Can Lauren help her siblings and parents, or is it too late for them? Are… are the killers’ eyes glowing a faint blue?
Adam Leader and Richard Oakes share both directing and writing duties on Hosts, and their love for the horror genre is evident throughout. Nods to Funny Games and The Strangers cast eerie shadows well before the bloodshed begins, which is the biggest problem here. Introducing all the players and their backstories, such as Michael’s dark secret he might share tonight, or Lauren’s boyfriend, does flesh out these characters. But there’s such little forward momentum until dinner is served, that the opening 10 to 15 minutes feel longer than they are.
However, once dinner is on the table, things pick up and continue to get crazier and more intense with every minute. The filmmakers beautifully layout the house’s geometry early on, though the viewer might not even realize that is what’s happening. This helps tremendously during the horror scenes, as knowing who is where, or isn’t there, keeps the tension high.
“The couple then attacks and tortures the other four family members.”
The kills themselves are brutal and should satisfy anyone with a love of viscera. Purists will be pleased to note that with very few exceptions, all the effects are practical and as bloody as they come. But, this isn’t just blood and torture for no reason, as Leader and Oakes imbue a true sense of dread into every frame. When Lucy grabs pliers, the viewer believes she’s about to pull out Ben’s teeth, but instead, goes after one of her own. It’s unexpected, ruthless, and horrifying.
But, they are not content with merely a blood-soaked frightfest; no, Leader and Oakes have crafted a pseudo-home invasion, torture, sci-fi (ish) tale that is all about the sins of the father. It is tricky to discuss without spoiling things, but Hosts tests the lengths of a family’s love and what they hide from those closest to them in an organic, interesting, and ultimately creepy way. Then things get really wild.
The cast assembled is fantastic. Jakeman garners a lot of sympathy as Michael, even when his secret is revealed. Ward and Loxley, with inhuman ways of walking and moving, are appropriately intense and scary as the killers. Lamin makes for a wonderfully determined and engaging final girl.
Hosts may borrow from some well-known titles and is a little slow to start, but it is worth the price of admission. The cast is great, the cinematography is exquisite, and the twists the story takes are exciting and unexpected. Above all, though, the movie is scary, filled to the brim with a sense of dreaded intensity.
"…unexpected, ruthless, and horrifying."