With the rise of YouTube celebrities and Airbnbs, it’s hardly surprising that the horror genre has begun to explore the intersection of the two. Enter Superhost…
The latest film from Canadian writer/director Brandon Christensen (Z) begins with a simple premise: a couple – Claire (The Vampire Diaries’ Sara Canning) and Teddy (Osric Chau) – who run a YouTube channel called ‘Superhost’ find themselves at the mercy of a deranged home owner, Rebecca (Gracie Gillam), in the middle of the woods.
It’s not the most original concept, so it’s all about the execution, which is unfortunately where the film falters. While the financial and domestic woes of Claire and Teddy are believable enough to believe that they would stick around the house long after Rebecca’s behaviour escalates from quirky weird to dangerous, Superhost relies too heavily on the couple making a series of dumb decisions.
This isn’t a dealbreaker considering the pantheon of horror characters who stick around unsafe situations long after rational people would have bailed, but Christensen’s script never allows any tension to build. From the moment that Rebecca is introduced, it’s evident to the audience that she’s lying about her true identity, and while Gillam’s delightfully unhinged performance is easily the best thing about the film, she starts at a 9 and never has anywhere to go. The basic rules of thrillers of this vein is that the villain must conceivably be able to pass in normal society, and then slowly the oddities and inaccuracies add up until it’s too late.
Superhost eschews all of that and immediately goes into “this woman is batshit” territory, which might be laudable if it weren’t for Claire and Teddy behaving like everything’s fine for 80% of the film. They flag when Rebecca talks to them through the numerous surveillance cameras around the house, and the fact that she breaks in to make them breakfast, and that the code for the house frequently changes on a whim, but they never do anything about it.
More often than not, it feels as though Claire and Teddy are in a completely different film than Rebecca. This means that the audience is always ahead of the characters, which isn’t enjoyable to watch. Not helping matters is the fact that Claire and Teddy aren’t particularly interesting or engaging; Canning and Chau are fine, but the characters are one-note and the romantic chemistry between the actors is non-existent (this renders the subplot about Teddy planning to propose feel unnecessary).
That leaves Gillam to essentially carry the film and, in this respect, the film does work. While it would have been nice to see more layers for the actress to play, Gillam’s forced cheeriness is appropriately unnerving. This is best utilized in a scene when she is being interviewed on camera about a memorable interaction with a pair of elderly guests. Christensen (via Claire and Teddy’s camera) shoots Rebecca straight-on in close-up as she distractedly reflects on the story of a magical Christmas, tears falling unacknowledged from her eyes.
It’s the closest that Gillam gets to playing something other than manic. While her interactions with genre icon Barbara Crampton – playing an aggrieved homeowner whose livelihood was ruined by Claire and Teddy – are entertaining, the interview is a stand-out of the film; it forces the audience to sit in the warped humanity of the film’s villain rather than rush her through a series of odd interactions.
If only there were more scenes like this, Superhost could have been something more memorable. As it stands, the film is too familiar and one-note to satisfy, despite Gillam’s committed villainous performance. 2.5/5
Superhost is now available on Digital, VOD, Blu, and DVD. The special features include an audio commentary by Christensen, a featurette about filming outside of Las Vegas during beetle season, and a fun Christensen hosted recap of filming during a pandemic.