Superhost

Whether it’s Peeping Tom or Psycho, surveillance horror has tapped anxiety surrounding being watched. Superhost is part of that lineage, recently exploited by the likes of superior efforts like The Rental and 13 Cameras, but with the POV of travel vloggers rather than weekend warriors.

If you’re confused by the title, you’re not alone: it’s the YouTube handle of travel vloggers and not AirBnB homeowners, as you might surmise. However, the mandate of the Superhost hosts, Claire and Teddy, is to interview people who put their homes up for rent, and who, depending on your perspective, cause rental rates to rise or fall or units to become more or less available.

A la Dave Franco’s The Rental, they arrive at a sprawling modern mountain mansion and gush all over it, before figuring out the accommodations are somewhat wanting, complete with intrusive security cameras and nonfunctional toilets.

And they do the usual unboxing or first impressions-style travel vlog, complete with different takes and yukking it up for clicks.

Yes, Superhost uses POV/found footage-style conceit, but fear not – it’s used within the context of, well, a couple of travel bloggers. Which makes sense.

Soon, Claire and Teddy find out that their host is less than…super. In fact, she’s a bit mentally off, inserting herself into their lives, by breaking in and cooking breakfast, and unctuously reiterating her desperate need for positive, glowing online reviews.

Obviously, it’s a quid quo pro arrangement and the accommodations are comped.

Superhost is not exactly reinventing the wheel, but there’s a nice twist toward the backend, and the always terrific Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) adding a bit of gravitas. Plus, there’s a couple of well-done practical effects.

This is Shuder-produced.

**2/4 (out of 5)

The Boy Behind the Door

When we see gushing near-unanimity on Rotten Tomatoes, we smell a rat. And sure enough, The Boy Behind the Door delivers, at least on that front.

And this isn’t some contrarian posturing, at least if you look at some of the folks corroborating our take on IMDb, yet another in a long line of frustrating disconnect between fancy pants critical approbation and John Q. Public.

And it all starts at the top.

While it’s possible to achieve a cohesive voice with two captains at the helm, at least when it comes to books (we have to believe that, as we are author/collaborators) it’s far more difficult when there are multiple moving parts, like say, in a film production.

The Boy Behind the Door is the brainchild of two directors, David Charbonier and Justin Powell. And while it’s possible to make a decent horror flick by auteur committee, we’ve yet to see it. Sure, you can say that Spielberg took the lead behind the scenes while Tobe Hooper’s name was on the marquee for Poltergeist, but it wasn’t intentionally the work of two going in.

And that’s not to say The Boy Behind the Door is bad, far from it. The first 45 minutes is an exercise in unflinching terror and expectation upending, with two youngsters kidnapped and taken to a rickety old farmhouse, in what’s supposed to be one of the Dakotas, capably portrayed by a remote abode in Culver City, California.

One, played by the simply dynamite Lonnie Chavis of TV’s This is Us, is the more resourceful of the two, trying his best to save his baseball buddy (played by Criminal Minds’ Ezra Dewey). The two kid leads are too good. And the house plays a critical role, much like the one in the Oliver Reed-starrer Burnt Offerings, or of course, House.

And various twists and turns and sideways jolts makes this an interesting one, with a wicked scare – of all things, a fingernail – really paying off.

Unfortunately, with things in high gear, the silliness grinds things to a halt (an antagonist gets their finger lopped off, and instead of bleeding and going into shock, continues to run around like John Carpenter’s The Shape). Also, there’s a shot for shot recreation of the Jack Nicholson door-bursting scene terrorizing Shelley Duval (and shouting out Johnny Carson) in The Shining.

A zoom in of one of the perp’s MAGA license plate and a later racial overturns are perfect examples too how the subtlety and magic, which first worked in the film’s favour, were tossed out the window in favour of typical slasher histrionics, almost out of the WWE’s Attitude Era.

What a shame, as Gordon Ramsay – no stranger to outbursts – might say.

**** (out of 5) for the first half, ** (out of 5) for the second.

Split the difference and don’t treat Rotten Tomatoes as gospel.