Superhost isn’t heavy on style and runs out of steam too early, but Gracie Gillam’s outlandishly unhinged performance keep things from becoming bland rehash.
A companion piece of sorts to last year’s Airbnb slasher-riff The Rental, Brandon Christensen’s Superhost tills familiar anxieties about trusting strangers while navigating a particular kind of online experience. Here, Teddy (Osric Chau) and Claire (Sara Canning) host a YouTube channel called Superhost in which they travel to vacation rental homes and produce obnoxiously chipper videos documenting the pros and cons of their stay. They’re steadily losing subscribers, and desperate to retain viewers, the duo book a secluded house in the mountains that’s been in high demand. Of course, things begin going wrong immediately upon their arrival. It’s small inconveniences at first, which will be familiar to anyone who’s used a homestay-style service themselves; the key pad to the front door doesn’t work, no one answers the phone when they call for assistance, a toilet is clogged, etc. Making matters worse, their host Rebecca (Gracie Gillam) is an outlandishly strange woman who pops up unannounced with alarming frequency. Rebecca is deeply concerned about getting a good review from her highly-visible guests, and so begins overcompensating in an avalanche of squirm-inducing cringe comedy.
These early scenes are light on incident but heavy on character building. Teddy is planning to propose to Claire over the weekend, while Claire is preoccupied with their follower count. While Teddy comes across as a bit of a milquetoast, she’s fits the bill as a control freak largely oblivious or otherwise insensitive to his romantic overtures. But smartly, Christensen doesn’t overplay his hand here — neither character becomes a caricature, nor are they satirical stand-ins for the terminally online. Despite a propensity for filming or otherwise stage-managing everything they do, the pair come across as fairly normal. Rebecca is a different story, entering the film like a whirlwind of Midwest nicety, all creepy, toothy grins and ingratiating small talk. She’s the host from hell, although it takes awhile for Teddy and Claire to figure that out. There’s a bit of wheel-spinning during this stretch, as Christensen wants to entertain the idea that Rebecca night just be weird rather than homicidal, but he ratchets up the odd incidents enough that there’s ultimately no question where things are headed. For her part, Gillam gives one of the great unhinged performances in recent memory, but Superhost is a resolutely small film, and even at barely 90 minutes, it starts to run out of steam. Genre stalwart Barbara Crampton shows up for a brief cameo as a property owner who’s rental business was destroyed by a series of negative reviews by Teddy and Claire, but curiously this thread is barely tugged on. Instead, she’s here for a brief bit of misdirection, which ushers the film into its (surprisingly brutal) final act. There’s not a ton of style here, and the narrative goes pretty much exactly where you think it will, but a stunning final few minutes retroactively bolsters the preceding 80 minutes or so, and plenty of slasher films have been built around lesser personalities than Gillam’s crazy busybody. Thanks to her, at least, the possibility of a Superhost 2 feels less like a threat than an intriguing possibility.
You can stream Superhost on Shudder beginning on September 2.