The Host: More Than Just a Monster Movie
by Alex Billington
March 7, 2007
Korean movies have yet to make a prominent impact on American cinema, but I believe The Host will do just that. The movie has been making its way through film festival circuits around the world, and it is finally making its nationwide US debut. Co-written and directed by South Korean Bong Joon-ho, The Host is an unconventional monster flick with touches of comedy, drama, and horror, all elegantly wrapped together in a genuinely enjoyable package.
After a toxic chemical is poured into Seoul's Han River, a gigantic mutant tadpole monster emerges from the sewers which surround the banks. A clumsy and uneducated father, his young daughter Hyun-seo, and her grandfather live dysfunctionally in a shack in a park serving dumplings to visitors. The monster appears for the first time in broad daylight to the terror of hundreds and kidnaps Hyun-seo. News of the incident spreads rapidly around Korea and the survivors are detained under the assumption that the creature is the host to a deadly virus. Hyun-seo's aunt and uncle return to aid her father and grandfather in the search to find her before it's too late.
It's hard to classify this film. The Host is a monster film, but it's so much more a drama about a dysfunctional family than it is a horror film about the creature. It has such a unique feel that's so different from any monster horror film in America, where the creature is seen right off the bat and terrorizes entire parks in the middle of the day. It's not a dark and scary, around-the-corner monster movie packed with gore; The Host is a drama about a struggling family and their endeavor to save the young Hyun-seo. It doesn't spend too much time developing a backstory, and rather lets the characters themselves tell their background.
A few pieces of the story felt a bit jumbled, mostly those involving the attempts to quarantine survivors and to eradicate the virus thought to be spread by the monster. But this virus was fake anyway and the scenes were too short to understand even what they were trying to show - an unnecessary addition that didn't help the story move along. The Host is also rather long, at nearly 2 hours, and vacillates between a simple hunt and an escape from the government forces that are searching for the family after they escaped quarantine. Despite the length, there were some beautiful scenes, which is very rare to say about what is technically a horror film, but this is a new kind of horror, something unseen before.
There's a certain elegance that comes from the Far East, and The Host is full of it. It's not a grungy monster movie you would imagine from Hollywood but rather an elegant creation that comes from a very different society and culture. Even the music adds quite a bit to the film, with a melodic score instead of chirpy or dark songs, and always adds a touch of class to every scene that it accompanies.
One of my favorite scenes is very early on when the family is tirelessly searching for the monster which finally encounters them. Then, instead of searching, they have to run away. Eventually something tragic happens, but the whole scene takes place in the rain, and the emotions and camera angles and every little detail about it is wonderful. It's one of those scenes that's hard to forget. Your mind keeps coming back to all the mundane aspects of it and just how powerful it is.
The Host will soon establish itself in America as a very new and unique outlook that could revive the tired horror genre in America. Bong Joon-ho is an incredible director, and it's a shame that we haven't taken a look at his other features recently as well, but I soon hope he will win respect in America. His vision and storytelling combined with fantastic performances, great CGI, and beautiful imagery deliver one of the most enjoyable films of 2007. I definitely won't forget The Host and I look forward to catching it a few more times in theaters.