GORE IN THE STORE
Directed by Brandon Christensen.
Starring Sara Canning, Osric Chau, Gracie Gillam and Barbara Crampton.
Horror, 84 mins, cert 18.
Released on Blu-ray, DVD and as a digital download from Acorn Media International on the 4th April 2022. RRP £19.99.
Pack your bags, but remember to include the hunting knife, as now is the perfect time to check into Brandon Christensen’s (director of Z and Still/Born) fun Airbnb horror SUPERHOST, the Shudder Original that’s seeing its release on physical media and digital download on April 4th.
Claire (Sara Canning) and Teddy (Osric Chau) are a couple trying to make a living vlogging about their travel accommodations on their “Superhost” YouTube channel. However, they are rapidly losing subscribers as well as having to deal with aggrieved former host Vera (Barbara Crampton). However, could the odd, and perhaps mentally unhinged, host of their latest stay, Rebecca (Gracie Gillam), provide them with the perfect clickbait content they’ve been waiting for? There’s certainly something a little off about this house; security cameras in every room, false teeth stuck down the loo, and a room full of cat paraphernalia but no cat. Is Rebecca just quirky and socially awkward… or something more sinister?
Apart from genre favourite Barbara Crampton (who has a small role), I was previously unfamiliar with the other cast members, even though they do have a host of decent credits behind them (Gillam is a former Disney Channel star), and all give equally assured and entertaining performances. Chau and Canning manage to be appropriately irritating (so that they’re believable lifestyle vloggers), but are sympathetic enough that you care what happens to them and Gillam is excellent as the crazed “superhost”, effortlessly shifting from sympathetic to sinister and sporting a perfectly honed manic grin throughout.
I wouldn’t quite call this a comedy horror as, although there are a lot of humorous moments, these are all fairly low key. However, it is definitely fun and breezy but features enough tension to keep you engaged. It’s also perfectly paced with the 84 minutes flying by.
Films that feature vloggers can often end up cringey and unrealistic (a prime example being another recent Shudder original, NIGHT’S END, whose YouTube videos felt like they were made by someone who had never watched any) but SUPERHOST handles this content well. The snapshots of the videos that we see feel authentic, and the film also acknowledges the fact that the leads are struggling to live off the money they make from vlogging. The dry satire of the inauthenticity of online influencers is also underplayed enough to be amusing but to not become tiresome.
I was slightly disappointed that the third act ends up becoming a bit predictable, and ignores some of the more interesting threads that have been dangled (vloggers exploiting a vulnerable person for their own gain), to instead settle on generic psycho killer fare. However, it does redeem itself with an amusingly cynical coda.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the special features included on the Blu-ray as you rarely get much these days, especially for independent features. These include two very short, but effective, horror shorts, a director’s commentary, a featurette detailing the film’s visual effects and a blooper reel. Then there’s two excellent behind the scenes documentaries. There’s a general 10 minute one including interviews with the cast and director detailing the inspiration behind the film and on-set hiccups such as a beetle infestation. Then there’s a 6 minute one that specifically focuses on the challenges of creating a movie during a pandemic which was particularly interesting as I haven’t seen anything like this previously.
Overall, SUPERHOST may ultimately tread a familiar path for genre fans but it’s buoyed by great performances and assured direction that manages to confidently juggle dark comedy and pulpy thrills. If SUPERHOST was a YouTube channel, I’d certainly smash that like button.
Reviewed by John Upton.