“Host” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
Let Him Go
Settings matter. At least they should. In the best story writing, time and place have a meaning. They’re not merely incidental to the plot. They inform the characters and action as events unfold.
“Let Him Go” has a setting that absolutely matters. When we first meet Margaret and George Blackledge (Diane Lane and Kevin Costner —go ahead and get the Ma and Pa Kent chuckles done), it’s on a ranch in Montana. It’s isolated with nothing around as far as the eye can see in any direction except for beautiful, expansive wilderness. They don’t call it “Big Sky” country for nothing, though there are some shots where the bigness of the sky is obscured by my favorite-named mountain range: The Crazies.
While they may be miles away from the closest town, they’re happy living on the ranch with son James (Ryan Bruce), his wife Lorna (Kayli Carter), and their son Jimmy, played by twins Otto and Bram Hornung. We see them one morning having breakfast. The kitchen is a bit old fashioned, but it could just be an old house. James turns on the radio and a 1950s rock and roll hit is playing. Maybe they just like the oldies station. Then we see their vehicles and it becomes obvious that “Let Him Go” does in fact take place in the 1950s. This period is critical to the story, particularly when coupled with the remote setting in Montana, and later, North Dakota. Chiefly, it means no cell phones, GPS, or Internet to assist the Blackledges through their troubles, and there is no shortage of troubles for them.
After a tragic accident that leaves Lorna a widowed single mom, she marries a man named Donnie Weboy (William Brittain). He’s an abusive brute to Lorna and Jimmy, and one day he forces the two of them to go with him to live with his family in North Dakota. Shocked to find out that their former daughter-in-law, and more importantly, grandson, have disappeared, George and Margaret set out to track them down.
Luckily, George is an ex-cop who has experience in tracking. After some fantastically tense scenes with just the right undercurrent of perceived hostility from a Weboy cousin (Will Hochman) and one of Donnie’s brothers (Jeffrey Donovan), the Blackledges find themselves at the doorstep of the Weboy clan matriarch, Blanche (Lesley Manville). She’s colorful and animated, a sharp contrast to the more reserved Blackledges. A younger version of this woman would not be out of place as a femme fatale in a classic film noir. Her boisterous and seemingly playful outward persona hides a dark, twisted, merciless streak that manifests when she feels crossed.
The Blackledges find out about this personality trait the hard way in two of the movie’s best scenes. One takes place at a dinner and another in a motel room. Writer-director Thomas Bezucha, working from a novel by Larry Watson, creates a palpable tension in the scenes. What was previously an undercurrent becomes more pronounced. While Blanche may be a well-written and fleshed out character, she’s such a loose cannon that it’s hard to predict what she’ll do next. Her mood can turn on a dime and her whims can have horrific consequences. It’s hard to get rid of the lump in the throat whenever she’s on screen. It’s a brilliant performance by Manville, and smartly written. Blanche doesn’t brag and talk about how bad she is—she shows us with extreme, forceful clarity. Rent it.
It’s a personal rule of mine to never pre-judge a movie by its length. I developed this rule years ago when I came to the realization that I could not count the number of two and a half hour plus movies that have absolutely riveted me and time melted away watching them, versus the number of 80- to 90-minute movies that felt like they dragged on forever. This rule also works in the other extreme. In the case of “Host,” just because it’s 57 minutes long that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective and well-made.
The premise is simple and timely. Stuck in lockdown, six friends get together on Zoom. But this is no ordinary get together. The host, Haley (Haley Bishop), has arranged for a medium (Seylan Baxter) to contact spirits as an interesting thing to do for the evening. She asks that they all take it seriously, but of course, as in most groups of friends, there’s that one who doesn’t. Her name is Jemma (Jemma Moore), and her shenanigans invite an evil spirit into the evening’s events.
“Host” plays out similarly to the “Unfriended” movies, both of which I very much enjoyed. I enjoyed “Host” as well, and for the same reasons. I respect the challenge of making a scary movie told only through web cams. By necessity, there are some bumps in the dark that are off camera, seen but not heard. The “less is more” approach is easier said than done, especially with audiences who want to see all that’s happening and be impressed by special effects. “Host” challenges those proclivities. Director Rob Savage shows just enough so that the story makes sense, yet not so much as to spoon feed the audience. It’s a delicate balancing act that he pulls off quite nicely.
There are minimal special effects in “Host,” mostly used on the evil spirit (James Swanton). The glimpses we get of him are chilling, including a final shot that will stick with you hours after the 57-minute experience of watching the movie is over. That alone is an amazing achievement. Rent it.
“The Last Blockbuster, “documentary on the last remaining Blockbuster Video in Bend, Oregon; and “Tesla,” biographical drama about the life of Nikola Tesla as a young man in New York City, starring Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, and Kyle MacLachlan.