Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama,Foreign,Thrillers Movie Review of ‘The Host’ (2006)

Movie Review of ‘The Host’ (2006)

Koreans are often renowned for their motion pictures, as Korean filmmakers produce horror films and action-thrillers with more verve and creativity than Hollywood. The Host is Korea’s attempt at a monster movie in the vein of something like Godzilla. Suffice it to say, the resultant film does not disappoint, and the Koreans have nailed yet another genre. Despite being produced for a paltry sum, The Host is a superlative effort, and its production values are only a few notches below its Hollywood counterparts. This is a consistently thrilling pic, imbued with competent storytelling and strong creature effects. It works as a monster movie due to its exhilarating sequences involving the creature, yet it actually has a functioning brain and it works as a familial drama as well, examining the breakdown of a dysfunctional family in a time of great crisis.

A dim-witted family man, Gang-du (Kang-ho) runs a concession stand along the Han River with his father and young daughter. Years prior, a nearby U.S. military base dumped a number of toxic chemicals into the river, giving rise to a ferocious, mutated monster which suddenly emerges from the Han River to go on a vicious rampage. After slaughtering multiple people, the creature flees, returning to its lair carrying Gang-du’s daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung) for future consumption. Gang-du naturally assumes the worst, and his family come to his aid to grieve Hyun-seo’s death. However, word surfaces that Gang-du’s daughter is in fact alive in captivity, held somewhere in the concrete storm drains feeding into the Han River. Though the authorities quarantine Gang-du due to an apparent virus threat, he escapes and teams up with his family members to bring the girl back home safely.

The Host asks you to suspend your disbelief in order to buy the plot. After the creature rises, we watch as it slaughters several people, devouring some and leaving others to rot, before snatching young Hyun-seo and taking her back to its lair alive. One imagines she should have drowned due to the beast’s constant submersion into the water, or at least received whiplash as a result of being carried around like a ragdoll. Luckily, past this hard-to-swallow contrivance, The Host is a top-notch flick. Director Joon-ho Bong mixes monster movie theatrics with moments of black humour, outright slapstick and biting satire. The humour is not a dumb distraction, however; it feels like an organic extension of the characters’ personalities. When Gang-du’s family are sprawled all over the floor writhing around in clumsy hysteria over Hyun-seo’s apparent death, it’s simultaneously poignant and hilarious. The tonal changes could have proven jarring, but they’re well-handed by Joon-ho.

To the picture’s credit, it wastes little time before diving into the tour de force set-piece in which the mutated monster stages its first attack along the Han River. It’s an astounding sequence, and it is so unnerving and riveting due to how plausible it seems. Indeed, Joon-ho dialled down the theatrics, shooting for a scarily brutal attack guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Momentum unfortunately slows down following this initial rampage, and the film runs too long at almost two hours, but there are far more strong moments than weak scenes. The attack scenes throughout the picture are absolutely killer, shot with exceptionally crisp and steady photography for maximum visibility to allow us to properly marvel at the abilities of this beast. The climax in particular is a stunner; a competently-orchestrated final showdown with the ability to affect, stimulate and astonish in equal measures. The creature design is commendable, and the special effects by American production house The Orphanage (The Day After TomorrowSuperman Returns) are quite good, even if the beast is not always entirely convincing. At time the CGI looks too obvious, but Joon-ho’s direction is strong enough to belie such shortcomings.

As the bumbling Gang-du, Kang-ho Song (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) is hugely effective. He’s a wonderful comedic presence, but his love for his daughter also shines through at all times. Moreover, the character’s transformation from slacker father to mature parent is impeccably sold by the actor. It’s refreshing for The Host to feature a dysfunctional family battling the beast, rather than a selection of soldiers or scientists. Speaking of which, The Host is an unorthodox creature feature which outright rejects Western mentality: the beast is shown in full view early into the film, the characters take precedence over action, no characters are safe, the downbeat ending is unexpected, and its anti-American messages are unheard of. As a result, the film is a breath of fresh air within a genre that has grown stale of late.

The Host is not perfect due to its at times rickety digital effects and a few patches of wobbly pacing, but it retains a quirky charm throughout which cannot be discounted. It contains several standout action sequences, yet, underneath, the film follows the time-honoured Spielbergian formula of a dysfunctional family that must come together in an hour of crisis. If you like monster movies, seek out The Host as soon as possible.

7.7/10

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