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The vacation rental industry is just weird. We go into homes owned by other people with security cameras through which they can watch us and act like it’s no big deal. This inherently discomfiting situation was unpacked well in Dave Franco's ambitious “The Rental” last year and it returns as the center of Brandon Christensen’s effective “Superhost,” a story of two vloggers who stumble into the wrong rental. It’s slight even in its short run time, but it’s anchored by an impressively unhinged performance from Gracie Gillam, who takes her unstable character and runs headfirst into that brand of campy horror that’s both entertaining and terrifying at the same time. I wish it was a little more ambitious and had some more meat on its bones regarding internet culture and shared spaces, but it’s undeniably entertaining, which is more than I can say about some of the times I’ve rented homes myself.
One of the more interesting aspects of “Superhost” is that it’s really about two people desperate to be liked. The first is Claire (Sara Canning), the co-host of a travel vlog with her boyfriend Teddy (Osric Chau) in which the pair travels to highly-rated vacation homes and reviews them on their video channel. Teddy is the optimist, even planning to propose to Claire on their next adventure, but she’s more of a realist, noticing that their subscribers numbers are dwindling, and eager to do what it takes to reverse that trend. Will their new trip be the one that gets eyes back on their vlog?
Rebecca sure hopes so too! Played by Gillam, the host of the rental home has a habit of sneaking up on Claire and Teddy while also seeming in a constant state of panic regarding their satisfaction. She lurks around the property, making sure everything is meeting their needs, and gives a deeply unsettling interview about her history with the home. Something is clearly wrong with Rebecca, but Gillam and Christensen smartly frame it as more than pure danger, imbuing the character with that creepy, eager-to-please nature that can be so unsettling. We may not have met someone as unhinged as Rebecca, but we’ve all met people who seem a little too reliant on our satisfaction. The best moments of “Superhost” center the idea that a bad review by a vlogger could send someone off the deep end.
Of course, the truth is that Rebecca has been unstable for a long time now and “Superhost” gets inevitably gruesome with revelations about the host from Hell. The last act is impressively dark as Claire, Teddy, and even a former host who believes she has been wronged by them (played by the legendary Barbara Crampton) find out that they have underestimated Rebecca. Having said that, there’s a sense that this is a solid episode of an anthology series like “Creepshow” (also on Shudder) that has been stretched to barely meet a theatrical running time. It’s probably a product of the pandemic, but several recent horror films have found ways to do more even with small casts and limited settings. Like most vacation home rentals, it gets the job done, but you’ll have trouble remembering too much about it by the time you’re taking your next horror trip.
On Shudder today.