(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem that begins with a command, so I started mine with some advice everyone ought to follow.)

Don’t be a jerk to a ghost!
They’re likely to take offense.
They’re less than forgiving
When haunting the living,
Then claim it was all self-defense.

Don’t be a fool with a phantom!
Jokes give them a reason to hate.
They’ll ransack the room
And foreshadow your doom
Without any chance for debate.

A spirit can sense an idiot
A hundred and ten yards away.
One cheeky remark
To make fun of the dark,
And the Other Side will make you pay.

MPA rating: Not Rated (probably R for language and frights)

The COVID pandemic resulted in Zoom becoming a bigger part of our lives than anyone could have foreseen, and that naturally was extended to the entertainment industry. Parks and Recreation had a reunion episode over their version of Zoom. The cast of One Cut of the Dead hilariously “reunited” to film a docudrama remotely via their own cameras. And the creators of Host found a way to make Zoom a vehicle for horror. Despite its 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s not particularly revolutionary in the plot department, just impressive for how skillfully its gimmick is utilized.

A band of friends log onto a Zoom call, and one of them has hired a medium to hold a remote séance. One girl talks about feeling the presence of an old classmate who killed himself, but when the medium is absent, she admits that she made up the story. Yet her disrespect has allowed an evil entity to begin terrorizing the group in their homes. With its pandemic setting, there’s a bit of the anxiety from Under the Shadow, where leaving the haunted house carries its own peril, though not as extreme as in that film. And while it carries the same suspension of disbelief inherent to found-footage films (like why they continually point their camera toward the danger), the filmmakers developed some clever uses for Zoom features, like the unnatural layering of virtual backgrounds or the facial recognition of filters that highlight the supernatural menace.

If you’re looking for a short spine-chiller (only 57 minutes) that amounts to “ghost attacks people,” Host is a good option. With its cast of interchangeable yuppies who don’t know when to turn the lights on and their cameras off, it’s still subject to the usual horror movie clichés and can’t compare to the storytelling of, say, Searching, another film in this new screenlife genre. It has at least confirmed my conviction to never attend a séance of any kind. Who knows who you might offend?

Best line: (Emma) “Haley, honestly, if I die, I’m going to haunt you myself.”

Rank:  Honorable Mention

© 2022 S.G. Liput
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