Superhost is the third film by writer/director Brandon Christensen (Still/Born, Z) and the first that wasn’t co-written with Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, What Keeps You Alive). It’s also the first that doesn’t revolve around parenthood. How well has he managed to change things up? And can he bring something new to a pair of well-worn plots, the Airbnb from hell and YouTubers getting more of a story than they bargained for?
Teddy (Osric Chau, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Supernatural) and Claire (Sara Canning, The Banana Splits Movie, Level 16) are co-hosts of the YouTube channel Superhost! as well as being a couple off-screen. He’s even planning to propose to her when they film their next segment.
But all is not well in the world of Airbnb reviews. Their subscriber count has been dropping due to their unsensational content. They rent a remote cabin only to find that the access code has been changed. The owner, Rebecca (Gracie Gillam, Teen Beach, Z Nation), is happy to help fix it, anything for a good review and to keep her “Superhost” status. Her obviously not quite right personality is just the thing they need to spice up their show and get their viewers back. But she’s willing to go a lot farther for that good review than they can imagine.
Christensen starts Superhost in familiar territory, Teddy thinks he sees someone staring at them in the night, somebody files complaints about their channel and, of course, Rebecca turning up at odd and awkward times. He stages these scenes well and gets good mileage from the way he stages and escalates the incidents.
We can tell almost from the start Rebecca has issues, the kind that would make me cautious around her, especially in the middle of nowhere. However, it’s not until Barbara Crampton (Stay Out Stay Alive, Run Hide Fight) turns up as Vera, the unhappy subject of one of the couple’s earlier stories, that we realize how messed up she is. And how dangerous making her the focus of their story could be.
The danger of structuring the film this way is if we don’t take Rebecca seriously, Superhost won’t work. It’s easy to make someone like Kane Hodder scary and imposing. Making a woman with a normal size and build scary is another matter. Thankfully Gilliam fully sells us on how dangerous the madness behind Rebecca’s smile really is. All three of the leads, as well as Crampton in her smaller role, are excellent but Gilliam really steals the show.
The danger of structuring the film this way is if we don’t take Rebecca seriously, Superhost won’t work. It’s easy to make someone like Kane Hodder scary and imposing. Making a woman with a normal size and build scary is another matter. Thankfully Gilliam fully sells us on how dangerous the madness behind Rebecca’s smile really is.
Superhost saves its violence for the last half hour, relying on psychological horror to keep us on edge. But when Christensen lets loose in the final act he more than makes up for it with a tense game of cat and mouse punctuated by some nasty practical carnage. Granted the film ends on a note I’ve seen a few too many times but it’s a minor complaint. As a whole, the film is a lot better than I was expecting given its small cast and familiar plot.
Shudder picked Superhost up for distribution ahead of its debut at this year’s Popcorn Frights Film Festival. They will release it in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand on September 2nd.