Host seemingly came out of nowhere, dropping on Shudder last week and taking the Internet by storm in the process. The film is a 56-minute horrific time capsule of the global pandemic of 2020, showing what life has been like for so many of us this year and telling a no-frills scary story in the process. While the film itself is currently riding a well deserved wave of praise and appreciation, its legacy should be the lesson it’s teaching the film industry.
Throughout history, horror has often been an under-appreciated trendsetter in Hollywood. Halloween in the late ’70s displayed the power of small, independent films. In the 1990s, The Blair Witch Project reminded Hollywood of that same lesson and taught a masterclass in the importance of viral marketing, a new concept at the time. What Host does so brilliantly is pack a powerful punch all in a tight, one-hour time frame that was made quickly enough to be socially relevant.
Times have changed. For every person that loved Martin Scorsese’s three and a half hour epic, The Irishman, last year, another five said it was too long. The world is fast-moving and attention spans are shorter, for better or worse. We live in the era of Tik Tok and other forms of short video content. People want to be entertained and they want to be entertained quickly. That’s part of the reason why television as a medium has become so increasingly popular over the past two decades. Episodes are shorter and more tightly packed. Film has traditionally been afraid of going under the ninety-minute mark but why? Host has told filmmakers and studios alike that it’s time to stop being afraid of making a movie with a shorter run time.
Something else to consider is that in these modern times where every penny spent on making a film is scrutinized, making a film with a shorter run time has the potential to be more profitable. By not feeling obligated to fill a ninety-minute time frame, money can be saved on both sides of the camera and the time to complete a film is also cut down, so a film can be released that much quicker. Part of Host’s appeal is that it came out when all aspects of the global pandemic are still happening. We’re not looking back on a time, we’re examining the time we live in. That freshness allows viewers to truly connect to what’s onscreen and when we watch this film again years from now, then we can be nostalgic.
By no means am I advocating that films make a push to have a sixty-minute run time. What I am advocating for is that films (and studios) shouldn’t feel obligated to comply with any dated concept of how long a movie should be. If a film can cut out any unneeded material and compete with television run times, as well as other forms of shorter video content, that’s a win both creatively and business-wise. With the rising importance of streaming services such as Shudder and theaters preferences for “blockbuster” type films that if they don’t gross half a billion dollars opening weekend, then they’re considered a flop, films with non-traditional run times have options that they previously didn’t.
The world is constantly changing right before our eyes. A few years ago, the idea of a film being a hit without having a theatrical run seemed crazy. The idea that streaming would be as dominant as it is seemed far-fetched. Toss in a global pandemic that’s going to make people think twice about leaving the comfort of their own home for a long time and now the landscape has changed even more. We have tons of options for entertainment at our disposal from home now, which is all the more reason to normalize a one hour film. Horror once again has been a trailblazer in the film industry and that will be a major part of Host’s legacy.