How Do You Make Movies in a Pandemic? Ask Horror Directors

Same is true for horror. In many ways, the genre is proving prescient when it comes to the limited kinds of movies filmmakers can attempt during lockdown. Way back in 2014, director Levan Gabriadze set his entire film Unfriended in a Skype call between a handful of friends. Its sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, did the same. 2014’s The Den also leaned heavily on video chat. It’s no wonder, then, that one of the first features made during the Covid-19 pandemic—Host, which hits the streaming service Shudder on Thursday—is set in Zoom. Shot entirely by the film’s cast in their own homes, director Rob Savage’s movie—inspired by a prank he pulled on his friends—was made in less than three months. It centers on a group of six friends who perform a séance on a videoconference; naturally, things go wrong. (Fun fact: Savage organized a Zoom séance with his cast and an actual medium as preparation. A book flew off the shelf of lead actor Jemma Moore’s house.)

“We saw a short horror film Rob shot during quarantine that went viral, and we immediately asked if he had an idea for a full-length feature,” Craig Engler, Shudder’s general manager said in a statement. “What he and his team created in Host surpassed all our expectations.”

Host is a prime example of necessity being the mother of invention. Savage only had so many tools at his disposal—basically his crew, their laptops, and what they had handy while quarantined—but he also, he says, was able to get help from a lot of people because everyone was clamoring for a creative pursuit. The result is a movie that feels like a product of quarantine (because Zoom calls are now inextricably linked to the pandemic) but also something separate from it: a classic haunting flick full of jump-scares. “As a horror filmmaker one of the things you’re always looking for is how you can find an idea the audience will take home with them,” Savage says. “You’re always looking for a way to ground it in day-to-day reality. We were just lucky that everyone is stuck at home, and everyone has this shared reality at the moment where 99 percent of us Zoom in how we communicate, how we see people.”

That said, no one—Savage included—wants to make a movie that feels like a gimmick, like they made it just to see if they could. Genre movies, and those who make them, are uniquely equipped for using computer screens as this stage, but that doesn’t mean making a movie that looks like it was made during a pandemic is wise. Nick Simon recently completed filming his latest feature by directing his cast over videoconference and having them film themselves. (They even did their own hair and makeup.) The currently untitled movie also features a group of friends who summon a spirit, but Simon’s film is decidedly a horror-comedy, something meant to lighten the mood during dark times. For that reason, Simon was pretty adamant that the movie not take place during the coronavirus lockdowns. Pandemic horror is pretty easy to do, but kinda gauche during a public health crisis.

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