September 9, 2021 Superhost (Movie Review)
Two vloggers get more than a smashed “Like” button during their stay in the mountains in the Shudder Original film Superhost. The Horror-Thriller debuted on Thursday, September 2, 2021.
Written and directed by Brandon Christensen (Still/Born 2017, Z 2019), the story centers on a couple—Claire (Sara Canning: A Series of Unfortunate Events series, Nancy Drew series) and Teddy (Osric Chau: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency series, Supernatural series)—who are travel vloggers. As they brave various vacation rentals across the West Coast to share their experiences with their subscribers, the pair has recently discovered that influencer life is not always #amazing.
In fact, at the moment it’s mostly a big downer, but they’re ready for their luck and “Likes” to turn around when they spend a weekend at the in-demand home of “superhost” Rebecca (Gracie Gillam: Fright Night 2011, Z Nation series), a gorgeous cabin in the woods. Even better: their hostess with the mostess is an oddball with a Cheshire cat grin and awkward social skills—just wacky enough to intrigue their viewers and make this an extra special episode. Which is exactly what everyone involved is hoping for: the most unique installment of the “Superhost” vlog yet!
Superhost is a definite mixed bag. While it succeeds with a cast of just four actors, as well as a small, multi-talented crew, it is built on a story that is immediately obvious and, therefore, lacks any true suspense. From nearly the first few minutes of the film, we know what’s wrong and whom it is wrong with—so it would be hard to advise anyone to come for a truly shocking twist. And yet, despite this transparency, this is a Shudder Original that is definitely worth your popcorn.
That is because Superhost is a whip-smart social (media) commentary. Neither a simple Horror-Thriller nor a zany Comedy, the film provides an enjoyable ride that asks us to see the truth behind the beautiful veil. Much like the falsity of the Wizard of Oz, social media and YouTube have allowed an endless list of creators to draft lives that do not exist in reality. Only in recent years has FOMO become such an issue, deserving of its own acronym, and progression that links back to this ability to cast a curtain over our true identities when online. Face facts: we live in a world where we can virtually be whoever we want to be, and, if we are lucky, we can become millionaires simply for picking our noses on YouTube or Twitch.
So much as the great George A Romero’s films were never just about zombies, and titan of the new-school Jordan Peele’s flicks are not intended simply for their thrills, Superhost is much more than the box in which it is delivered. A creative commentary meant to provoke thought, while providing some twisted humor and stab wounds along the way, it hits with an efficacy that propels the film to the top of the burgeoning ‘vlogging-gone-horribly-wrong’ subset that contains such notable offerings as 2018’s Like Me and 2019’s The 16th Episode.
So how can a film that romantically pairs two diametrically opposed forces together still manage to succeed? The unwanted third wheel, Rebecca. Gillam’s “superhost” is clinically insane, and the actress has wild fun within the role. From gawking eyes that gape too wide at all times, to turning up in the middle of a road at the most inopportune moment, Rebecca is the looney-tunes hostess that we never want to meet. Her understated eccentricity makes her a genius villainess, and one who is unhinged in all the very best ways. Gillam’s performance brings massive bonus points to the film as she prances her way through the woods, taking stabs at physical comedy and her co-stars.
Not to be overlooked, one of those fellow stars is Horror icon Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator 1985, You’re Next 2011), who plays a bit part, but still brings her powerful presence to the film. All this as Canning and Chau hold down the pivotal roles of Claire and Teddy, a couple whose relationship is in need of work. The duo, however, are perfectly able to harness that disgustingly giddy personality that so many influencers fake for their audiences, as well as providing the nuances necessary to make their off-screen (but still on-screen) characters feel authentic.
Take all of the above, add on a score from Blitz//Berlin that serves to magnify the on-screen tension, cinematography from Clayton Moore (It Stains the Sands Red 2016, Bob Freeman: Exterminator for Hire 2019) that emphasizes the natural scenery as well as the voyeuristic architecture of the rental, and you have a film that succeeds at being an enjoyable watch despite any shortcomings—and we definitely include the CGI blood splatter in this.
Plus, at 83 minutes runtime, this is not a large pill to swallow. Sure, you will know where it’s headed before you even sit down to watch, but this is an instance where the ride is still very much worth taking. With its layered tale, Superhost provides plenty of food for intelligent thought while still managing to deliver Horror movie characters who make terrible decisions. For this, and because someone is always watching, Cryptic Rock gives Superhost 4 out of 5 stars.