Directed by Adam Leader & Richard Oakes. Screenplay by Leader.
Starring Neal Ward, Nadia Lamin, Frank Jakeman, Jennifer K. Preston, Lee Hunter, Samantha Loxley, & Buddy Skelton.
Odin’s Light / Dark Fable Media
Not Rated / 89 minutes
The following essay contains SPOILERS! Beware.
I didn’t expect much from Hosts other than the basic home invasion story with an added supernatural element. What I got was 89 tense minutes that were anything but the traditional home invasion horror. Adam Leader and Richard Oakes— from a screenplay penned by Leader— craft a stunning Christmas horror that takes the sub-genre’s usual atmosphere and goes a step further. Horror set on or around Christmas usually seeks to shatter the family-oriented, capitalist-marketed holiday illusion with blood and guts. This film goes hard, hoping to totally obliterate a Christian Christmas.
Jack (Neal Ward) and Lauren (Nadia Lamin) are preparing to go to their neighbours’ house for Christmas Eve dinner. Before they can they’re visited by terrifying entities. They arrive at the house next door acting strangely, but Michael (Frank Jakeman) and his family chalks it up to the fact Jack doesn’t know his father and isn’t quite used to a family holiday supper. Once the meal gets underway, the night’s tone drastically changes when Jack and Lauren take the family hostage, under influence of whatever sinister beings now inhabit their bodies. The rest of Christmas Eve is less jolly, more gory.
The best part of Hosts is that it never slows down. Things move gradually up to the dinner table, after that it’s a roller coaster ride into visceral terror. Hosts never skimps on blood splatter. Better than that, the story’s focus is on subverting images of Christian Christmas. It isn’t simply subversion for subversion’s sake. Leader’s screenplay attacks the hypocrisy of a capitalist holiday built upon Christ’s birth by attacking some of the hypocrisies at the heart of religion itself.
Christmas is a time meant to be spent with family, to be thankful for the people in our lives and the time we get with them. Since industrialisation, Christmas has increasingly become a capitalist shitshow, more about who gets what, how much everybody’s gift costs, and how much debt you’re in after the holidays are over. Hosts is a definitively working class look at Christmas, starting with Jack at work before he walks home, and later via Michael this proletarian focus continues. Michael’s working class life is symbolised by the old TV set he keeps. He hopes to fix it so he can pass it on to his son, like his father did with him. The TV set is a gifted family heirloom, epitomising Michael and his father’s working class struggle to provide for their families. The television plays another role eventually, but this is a great moment that speaks to the classist nature of gifting at Christmas because Michael sees the TV set as a better gift than any new item out of a catalogue or from a department store.
The title of the film itself is a good play-on-words. The story introduces several versions of what it means to be a host. There’s the obvious definition with one family hosting another for dinner. Michael’s wife Cassie (Jennifer K Preston) is a host herself for cancer, announcing at diner she’s finally in remission. Jack and Lauren are hosts for the demonic entities. Finally, Christian Christmas is based upon the Nativity of Jesus— Mary and Joseph essentially lacked hosts who could properly accommodate them. The film evoking Christianity in Christmas is subverted by the demonic presences influencing Jack and Lauren. Before things get terrible for the host family, there’s a really funny moment that speaks to the current conservative American invented crisis of the War on Christmas. We see a news broadcast that mentions ‘traditional Christmas’— code for White People’s Christmas— being replaced by “pagan–like celebration” in the 21st century. The irony is many popular Christmas traditions in Christianity, as well as other regular Christian traditions/rituals, are actually borrowed from paganism. After this fleeting chuckle-worthy moment, Hosts transcends to another level thematically by using demons to tear down the illusions of Christian Christmas.
“We’re all just products of our own environments: betrayals, neglect, the things we’ve done, the things done to us…”
Much of the religiously subversive material here comes from literal reworking of the Bible and Christian mythology. During one scene, the demons give Lucy (Samantha Loxley) a gun so she’ll kill her brother, like a twisted revision of Abraham being told by God to kill his son Isaac. We could even look at this as a mocking of God sacrificing his son Jesus— the scene takes place in a triangle-shaped attic, a visual figuratively evoking the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The best religious subversion in Hosts comes from Lauren. She’s a horror parallel to the Virgin Mary. If you think about it, Mary’s story is terrifying: God, essentially, raped her divinely in the middle of the night. So rather than being host to a divine entity, Lauren’s host to a demonic one, the product of divine violence. She actually turns over a picture of Jesus Christ upon first entering their neighbours’ home.
The crowning moment that shatters a Christian Christmas is when we discover Jack is Michael’s son whom he gave up because he thought he was too young to raise a child. The sins of the father return, albeit in a horrific way, to haunt him. Similarly, we can look at it in the light of Christianity again. Michael stands in for God, thus Jack becomes the fallen angel Lucifer, whose father kept his favoured son and cast him out of Heaven— remember, God calls angels his sons, if only in a spiritual sense. This fallen angel parallel is touched on earlier when Lauren tell’s the story of the garden, like a retelling of Adam and Eve in Eden. She tells Lucy: “Demons come as angels of light.” This statement echoes 2 Corinthians 11:14: “And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.” A religious reading of the story makes Jack and Lauren into a demonic Lucifer-Virgin Mary pair, each returning to Earth to do unto others what was done unto them.
I recently saw another film that made me remark it’s been a while since a horror film genuinely kicked my ass. Hosts is now another ass-kicker. The beginning makes you think Lauren and Jack are the protagonists of the story, quickly pivoting to the young couple’s possession by demons before they go next door for Christmas Eve dinner. A brief pivot, but interesting. We know more about them than we initially know about Michael’s family. We have to get to know Michael and his family in the midst of brutal, tragic violence, which gives the film a sharp edge.
Hosts is so affecting because it digs into Christmas with horror in a way that few other films, if any, like it have done before. The story centring on a subversion of Christian Christmas takes the usual tone of Christmas horror and amps it up to 11. Oakes and Leader’s film is like a modern day version of a book from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. All those fallen angels, now demons, have returned to Earth fittingly during the holiday celebrating Christ’s birth so they can influence and ultimately destroy humans who’ve been favoured over them. Merry fucking Christmas.