Superhost Is a Super-Mixed Bag

I love traveling. Who doesn’t, really? Whether it’s fun in the sun or camping for a weekend, who doesn’t like to get away from their life for a period of time. Whenever I go anywhere, I enjoy staying in hotels, though I understand how the price range for those comforts isn’t always conducive to various budgets. I stayed at an Airbnb once. It wasn’t a bad experience, but there is a particular disquieting notion of knowing you’re in someone else’s home. You’re an intruder with permission to some extent. You certainly don’t belong in this place, and yet here you are. For as much anxiety a host can have in allowing strangers to rummage through their home, it’s equally concerning for the person staying in a home not knowing much about the host. This is the tense line Brandon Christensen tows with his latest film, Superhost. 

Wrapped in a millennial storyline about vloggers, Superhost’s setup combines a modern era world with an old-time horror setup: the cabin in the woods. Claire and Teddy (The Vampire Diaries’ Sara Canning and Supernatural’s Osric Chau) are introduced shooting a video for their YouTube page where they’ve grown enough of a following to monetize their videos where they stay in and rate various Airbnbs. I’m constantly impressed by anyone able to turn something like that into a career, but, like most people, I also harbor a genuine dislike for those getting paid to enjoy themselves on vacation. Amidst a steady downslide of subscribers, Claire and Teddy have found the holy grail of rental properties, a place where there is rarely an opening that holds a near immaculate rating.  

Claire and Teddy smiling into their camera for their vlog

Upon meeting the saccharine couple, my thoughts quickly became displayed on my face in an eye roll. I was pretty sure I was supposed to like this couple, especially seeing that Teddy was confessing his plans to propose to Claire on this trip. I just hated them, though—almost immediately. And they never charmed their way back. Though the proposal scene itself may have solicited a unique bit of empathy within me as Teddy attempts to make things perfect for his grand romantic gesture, and the situation just doesn’t turn out quite how he’d planned it, at at the core, our main characters are unlikeable. They expect everything and do nothing for it. As far as crafting horror is concerned, it’s hard to get scared when you’re rooting for the villain.  

Speaking of villains, let’s talk about the film’s resident psychopath. Gracie Gillam is utterly fantastic in Superhost. As Rebecca, Gilliam starts quirky and odd and slowly shifts into darker territory until her presence becomes so intense on-screen that it creates its own atmosphere. Rebecca’s transformation into a homicidal maniac is reminiscent of Glenn Close from Fatal Attraction or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. At no time did I want to miss Rebecca’s on-screen evolution.  

It should also be said how much of a hype-woman Barbara Crampton is. I’ve been seeing clips and photographs from Superhost on my Instagram for the last few weeks and felt like I absolutely needed to watch the film immediately. Crampton is always awesome, and as property owner Vera, ruined by Claire and Teddy’s vlog, she adds that extra edge to the storyline. Any project I see Crampton attached to always holds immediate interest to me, and given her impressive body of work and her nonstop projects lately of Jakob’s Wife, an appearance on Shudder’s Creepshow, and even adding her voice to the video game Back 4 Blood, it’s easy to see why the iconic actress is worthy of that.  

Rebecca smiles at Vera who has a patch of duct tape over her mouth.

Unfortunately, even the wonderful talent in this film can’t save it from the half-baked story. There’s just something missing when Rebecca goes full Norman Bates, and I think it’s the fact that this film doesn’t consider its audience. I give some consideration to the suspension of reality. Still, there are some thought-provoking arguments to consider when looking back at the film, especially how it treats its millennial influencer characters, especially when part of the story consists of how they treat everyone else. 

Claire and Teddy may not be the brightest couple, but they should have some awareness of their situation. There’s a whole scene where Teddy hears someone enter the house late at night, investigating, determining someone was in the house and then going back to sleep. Listen, even in my own house, whenever I’ve heard a strange noise, I’ve looked at the ceiling and said, “whatever, just let it kill me,” but in a stranger’s house with the red flag of a suspicious host that continues to show up at random and the evidence of actual intrusion is a little different from regular late-night paranoia. I would not sleep the rest of the night. There’s also the fact that these vloggers don’t have discernable real-life skills to thwart off a threatening killer. Were they always vloggers? Did neither of them go to scouts or go camping with friends? Honestly, it becomes a bit boring. The only fun we have is watching Rebecca hunt Teddy and Claire, but there’s no fight, only flight.  

Here’s the thing, I can’t say I didn’t like Superhost. That would be a lie. Realistically, it’s the performances and the tone of the film that holds the thing together. The kills are brutal and worth commenting on, too. I literally yelled at my screen thanks to the wonderful makeup, effects, and camerawork. All that aside, the end result feels lazy, lacking in the character development perspectives of Teddy and Claire. While the side characters steal the show and the atmosphere is built phenomenally well, it just doesn’t satisfy. This, to me anyway, seems like it’s becoming writer/director Brandon Christensen’s calling card after I felt similarly about both Still/Born and Z. All of his films have a terrific build, but the fun falters during the climax. Z, for instance, was incredibly atmospheric and intense until the ending sort of petered out. The same thing happens with Superhost. 

Superhost is now available to stream on Shudder. 

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Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

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