Hosts (2020)

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The opening credits of Adam Leader & Richard Oakes’ Hosts are accompanied by a spiralling shot through a narrow rocky tunnel towards the mouth above and the clouds beyond. That image will recur at several points in the film, but will remain something of a mystery. Not long afterwards we will hear a news report connecting ‘electrical anomalies’ to local fracking, and one character, Michael Henderson (Frank Jakeman), will later mention how his father used to work down the mines before the closures in the Eighties – and there is the sense that all these penetrations of the earth might have caused something beneath to stir and surface. Yet none of this is ever properly explained, as the film prefers to mine the cracks in the structure of two neighbouring families.

On his way home from work, train driver Jack (Neal Ward) walks across a field, and in the middle runs into his next-door neighbour, the rifle-slinging Michael. Michael has just bagged some pheasants for the family dinner to which Jack and his partner Lucy (Samantha Loxley) have been invited later that evening. Michael is also incongruously dressed as Father Christmas – which is significant not just because it is indeed Christmas, but because Michael is very much a father. Recently bereft of his own father, Jack is full of life, and he and Lucy are very much in love – yet before they head over to the Hendersons’, Lucy sees two blue lights in the garden, and something enters the house.

Michael, his wife Cassie (Jennifer K. Preston), their adult children Lauren (Nadia Lamin) and Eric (Lee Hunter) and the much younger Ben (Buddy Skelton) are so distracted with their own family affairs – Michael’s thoughts of legacy, Lauren’s hesitancy about marrying her boyfriend, Cassie’s cancer – that they pay little attention to the odd, robotic behaviour of their two recently arrived guests from next door. An extremely violent event, however, brings a sudden end to the dinner, as this neighbourly soirée turns out to be a sinister home invasion (of the bodysnatchers’ variety). By whom, exactly, and to what purpose, remains less clear.

Starting as a domestic drama, before veering without warning into more shocking registers, Hosts delivers a package of harrowing home truths while wrapping them in the tropes of sci-fi and the occult. So this is an anti-Christmas film, not so much bringing a family together as tearing it apart in a housebound apocalypse. For beneath the surface of these intimately connected neighbours there is  an ugly seam of misery, abandonment and sadistic vindictiveness. Boasting lived-in performances, Leader and Oakes’ feature debut transforms the Hendersons’ middle-class home into a claustrophobic, increasingly gory purgatory where painful revelations come out, impossible moral choices are made and blood kin are confronted with the consequences of their own toxic environment. The film is uncanny and overdetermined, which is to say that it will continue to haunt you long after it is over.

Summary: Adam Leader & Richard Oakes’s feature debut is a cruel Christmas cracker of fathers and sons, packaged with SF and apocalyptic ultraviolence.

© Anton Bitel