Sunday, August 13, 2023

Superhost, A Guest Review by Robert Treybur

{Today's review is by a great friend of mine who goes by the pseudonym Robert Treybur.  He has been a patron of this blog as well as an enormous encourager for all 1900 reviews that have appeared on this blog.  Back in November 2013 I posted my initial review, Kate Beckinsale's "Whiteout." He read it eagerly and loved it.  A kindred spirit, Mr. Treybur is, you might say.  You'll hear more from him as he emerges as one of the greatest horror poets in American literature.} 

As an original fan of the Emporium from way back in 2013, I was ecstatic when Chris invited me to submit a “Guest Review” . . . with the caveat that the movie had to be both deviant and prurient in nature. Knowing I would never live up to the depths of Mr. Zisi’s expectations or imagination, I decided to explore the next best thing: a social media obsessed dysfunctional couple suddenly faced with extreme pain and/or dismemberment. Too harsh too early? You be the judge as we take a look at 2021’s SUPERHOST, directed by Brandon Christensen.

Claire (Sara Canning) and Teddy (Osric Chau) are a young couple trying to keep their once thriving travel vlog/social media channel afloat, which is aptly named “Superhost”. Claire is desperate to keep subscribers at any cost, while Teddy is simply happy to create unimaginative videos about the various vacation spots that they rent and review . . . as long as can be with her. When we first meet these star-crossed lovers, they are filming a teaser video about their upcoming stay at an isolated vacation home. Fans of the Emporium will see early on that bad things are coming when: 1.) Teddy gets teased/rebuffed for premarital sex with Claire in the first ninety seconds (no pun intended) of the movie; and 2.) the two take a long drive up an isolated mountain road during the opening credits.

Our vacuous couple soon meet Rebecca (Gracie Gillam), the house hostess and excited fan who only wants to get the best review possible. Helpful to a fault, Rebecca is always ready to unplug a toilet with a large knife, provide an unexpected breakfast (while watching through the ever present home security cameras), defend Teddy and Claire against angry former landlords (Barbara Crampton!), and generally make her increasingly unsettling presence known at all times of day and night. Rebecca is just cute and awkward enough for the arrogantly unwary (like Claire) to not take seriously, even to the point of wanting to exploit her “quirks” in order to get new subscribers.

Teddy, the voice of reason, tries to appeal to Claire’s better nature and take the higher road. Unfortunately, his earnestness is met with not so subtle emasculating comments from Claire, such as how Teddy’s uninspired editing and on-camera commentary are the reasons they lose subscribers, and how she is ashamed they have to ask his Dad for rent (I noticed they don’t ask HER Dad for rent money . . . . ) Of course, Teddy takes all of this in stride, as a sub plot involves him desperately wanting to marry Claire in the tradition of all naïve Gen Z romantics – while constantly asking new viewers to like and subscribe. Unfortunately, Teddy is a Beta Male, and Claire is shallow, so you can probably guess how that is going to work out for him . . . .

Back to our main story: Teddy and Claire learning that actions have consequences, and that perceived slights of possibly sociopathic people can be deadly. Terrific performances from Sara Canning and Osric Chau bring an “unsympathetic sympathy” to Claire and Teddy as they attempt to deal with Gracie Gillam’s Rebecca, who is devolving into (possible) insanity . . . or maybe she is just upset at the idea of not getting a good review? Maybe she harbors a secret desire for Teddy? Perhaps Teddy should dump Claire and make cat videos with Rebecca . . . the rabbit holes here are endless.

Friends, let me state at this point that SUPERHOST is a “guilty pleasure” of mine. While the premise itself is admittedly not that original (the isolated couple faced with a possibly insane stalker), director Brandon Christensen has taken this trope to a higher level. Production value, or the appearance thereof, is key for a successful horror movie, and Christensen has definitely delivered here, to include using an actual mountaintop residential home that was listed for sale after filming completed (the filmmakers utilized the home’s original furniture, kitchen décor and even lamb shaped footrests with the result being the building itself becomes an ominous character!) Talented direction, creative use of visuals, cinematography, and environment all combine to make this movie stand out. Composers Blitz//Berlin also deliver an ominous score that enhances the psychological ebbs and flows as the characters’ carefully constructed worlds begin to fall apart (the moment when we finally “see” the real Rebecca really shines through if you pay close attention to the music . . . .)

Some of you will not enjoy SUPERHOST. Some will find that there is not enough gore or violence, or believe the “threat” (no spoilers here, if there is one at all?) is not really that dangerous. Fair enough. However, I would submit that the fear at work here is more akin to what you would find in the real world as opposed to what we have seen in the past in places like Haddonfield or Camp Crystal Lake. As a good friend once told me, in the old days the insane were kept locked away secure in the family attic, but today they are standing in line behind you at Costco – and you don’t know if they have taken their meds. So do yourself a favor, watch out for the peppy, overly positive girl next time you are in line at the store, buy your favorite adult beverage, and watch SUPERHOST.

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