It's always inspiring to see what can be done with a good story and some likable actors. Look at Creep or the bonkers Dementia Part II earlier this year. And even though it stumbles some in the third act, Brandon Christensen's Superhost definitely delivers!
We start innocently enough with Teddy (Osric Chau) and Claire (Sara Canning), a pair of Airbnb YouTubers heading to an idyllic new rental in the mountains. Right away, the film impressed me. With their stereotypically surface-level content, most films would paint the two of them as shallow, contemptible caricatures (excellent touch with the ubiquitous ring light in the eyes, by the way). Not so in Superhost. Seconds after the cameras stop rolling, Teddy and Claire instantly morph into very real, very relatable people. It seems their viewership is plummeting and they're going through some rough financial woes. Claire barely has the energy to get through each shot, but her boyfriend Teddy has something 'very' special planned for her this particular getaway.
Soon after they arrive, things start to go askew. They meet Gracie Gillam's Rebecca, looking like she stepped right out of a Tim Burton movie (pre-Chocolate Factory, thank God). Rebecca is definitely the movie's rogue element, for better or worse. That's nothing on her actress, Gillam turns in a great performance and does get some genuine laughs. Her 'out of place' nature even works to the film's advantage for the first hour or so, giving off a real sense of disorientation. There's a specific point near the end, though, where things get fumbled but we'll get to that.
Rebecca's the homeowner and is immediately a little too...'nice.' Oh she'll cook breakfast and fix toilets (at 3am) but there's something a bit clingy about her. Add that to Claire's dwindling audience and financial worries, Teddy's botched attempts to propose and a sudden visit from a scorned former 'Superhost' (the always wonderful Barbara Crampton) and you have the makings of a genuine nightmare weekend.
(Quick aside but Rebecca's mannerisms definitely reminded me of my eighth grad math teacher. A defining moment in my distrust of authority, for sure.)
In general, the story of Superhost is pretty familiar. There's some isolation, some stalking. You know the drill. There's an interesting aspect of identity, though, that runs through most of the film. The public face people present and what that could actually hide. That leads to what I think is the strongest and most chilling scene where Teddy tries to propose on a mountaintop. There's one specific little moment Sara Canning delivers that actually had my skin crawling. That's where Superhost really excels, in the smaller moments. No blood, no jump scare, just one little thing that feels a bit 'off.' The real stuff. The cracks you see in the people you think you know. Unfortunately, by the end of the second act, a lot of that's abandoned.
Your mileage may vary, but I find these kinds of films generally strongest when they end with full horror or full comedy. Mixing the two is great but you usually need to end with one or the other. Creep ends on a pretty bleak note. Dementia Part II goes totally batshit (seriously, check that one out if you haven't already). But Superhost waffles between the two in an odd way that's just a bit head-tilting. Again, it may be that it's not for me because I absolutely loved the first hour. There is one long scene between Gillam and Chau that plays really well in a bubble and nearly redeems the whole thing.
But, like I said, you might think differently.
Despite those missteps, Superhost is a really effective paranoia picture with a very charismatic cast. Osric Chau is a terrific lead. I'm usually not invested in movie romances but his love for Claire was just so incredibly sweet and earnest. You really do feel for the guy. Barbara Crampton, for her minute or two of screentime, expertly walks the line with a character that could be written off as shrewish and really delivers the pathos. Gracie Gillam is operating in her own world and gives 'crazy eyes' like nobody's business. And hey, going back a bit, Sara Canning was responsible for my favorite part of the entire movie.
Superhost is available on Shudder and is certainly recommended. This is a great group of people and I would very much like to see them work together again. Maybe an American Horror Story style reunion with a new story, flipped characters, etc (of course, if it's Ryan Murphy someone's going to have to make out with Denis O'Hare).
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