HOSTS **** UK 2020 Dir: Adam Leader, Richard Oakes. 89 mins
A distinctively British spin on INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS that makes a major virtue out of its low budget. The opening is deceptively light and funny, with an appealing young couple preparing for Christmas Eve dinner with the neighbours. Jack (Neal Ward) has just had a bad dye job and sports a naff Christmas jumper. Lucy (Samantha Loxley) has started a new job as a primary school teacher. While the TV reports traditional Christmases are on the wane and talks ominously about unidentified electrical currents, the couple spot Something in the garden.
Co-directors Adam Leader and Richard Oakes capture a growing sense of unease around the subtly warping Yuletide cosiness. The Henderson family hosting our protagonists relish the traditional family Christmas that seems so passé. Dad Frank Jakeman waxes nostalgic about his own father and their old family TV. Mum (Jennifer K Preston) has some heart-warming news to share over the lovingly prepared pheasant (and all the trimmings). It’s been a tough year but things are looking up. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own need to cultivate festive cheer that no one pays attention to the elephant(s) in the room until it’s too late.
HOSTS delivers some joltingly visceral moments – including a gruelling bout of D.I.Y. dentistry – though its biggest shock is guaranteed a place in any sensible 2020 top ten of Movie Moments That Made Me Spill My Tea. As with all great Yuletide horror films, its increasingly horrific plot hinges on relatable emotional beats and the omnipresent spectres of family secrets and enduring grudges. A fine companion piece to another Brexit-era festive nightmare movie, AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS, it also makes effectively unnerving use of that mainstay of any family Christmas, the television that never gets switched off.
Once the threat is out of the bag, HOSTS unleashes a pair of genuinely disturbing antagonists, speaking in a weird, stilted mockery of human emotion and cadence. A whispery explanation of intent to the youngest member of the family is chillingly delivered. Loxley is a standout in a strong cast as characters descend into escalating panic and hopelessness while Leader and Oakes wisely save the most haunting visual for the very last scene.
Review by Steven West