Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Premise: A Korean film. An amphibious monster emerges from the Han River is Seoul and terrorizes the locals. The creature kidnaps a young girl and takes her to its lair. Her family attempts to rescue her while the government tries to contain the area.
What Works: The Host is an effective example of a movie that draws on various genres and filmmaking conventions and combines familiar elements in a way that makes the material fresh. This is firstly a monster movie in the tradition of Godzilla and Humanoids from the Deep and it has a fantastic creature at the center of it. One of the mistakes that sci-fi and horror filmmakers sometimes make when they design monsters is going too far, making their creatures too big or too outlandish or not matching the creature with its environment. The beast of The Host has an unusual but credible design. The creature is computer generated but the filmmakers integrate it into the live action and the illusion is entirely convincing. The action scenes of The Host are very well done, especially the monster’s attacks. Scenes like the creature’s first appearance are paced very well and the moviemakers frequently choose unusual camera angles. These creative decisions energize the movie and set up and then undermine the viewer’s expectations. Another element of the film that makes it credible is the scale of the movie. The monster and the action scenes are big enough to be spectacular but The Host does not have scenes of mass destruction and so the film retains a degree of credibility that a lot of Hollywood monster movies lose with over-the-top set pieces. One of the exceptional elements of The Host is the way it transcends the monster movie. The story is primarily about a family dealing with a crisis, much like a kidnapping story or a disaster movie. The family members are an unusual lot, led by the father (Kang-ho Song) of the missing daughter. He is not a traditionally heroic character. He’s not very smart or commanding and this makes him an unusual pick to lead the film. The rest of the family members are also atypical, including a sister who is an Olympic archer (Doona Bae) and a brother who is an alcoholic (Hae-il Park). The unusual characters lend the film some novelty but they also allow for humor. The Host has a lot of unexpected jokes, some of which are physical comedy and other that are satirical, and the gags mix well with the more serious elements of the film. The Host also transcends the monster movie with its political aspects. This picture recalls the movies of George A. Romero like Dawn of the Dead and The Crazies in that it is about individuals dealing with a crisis and how government agencies and people in power try to assert control over a chaotic situation. Some of the political aspects are specific to Korea and only a local audience is likely to pick up on them but the underlying issues of panic, power, and control will be recognizable to anyone.
What Doesn’t: The Host puts its monster so far into the background that viewers who come to this film expecting constant monster action may be disappointed. Some viewers, especially non-Korean audiences, might find some aspects of the film unusual. American audiences are accustomed to their main characters being either supermen or competent commoners but the lead character of The Host is a softheaded weakling and his family members are equally flawed. These characters do not inspire the kind of admiration that viewers accustomed to Hollywood blockbusters might expect. The film does slowdown in its second act and in this slack periodThe Host loses some of its momentum, although it picks up in the climax and ends with a very satisfying conclusion.
DVD extras: The two-disc edition of The Host includes commentary tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes, a documentary, interviews, image galleries, and trailers.
Bottom Line: The Host is an unusual monster movie but its unusual qualities are also many of its strengths. The movie may not be as well known to American audiences but it is worth checking out, especially for sci-fi and action fans seeking something different.
Episode: #448 (July 21, 2013)