Directed by Joon-ho Bong, 2006
I’m the first to confess my excitement regarding a film before its release, especially when said excitement borders on delirium. I’m also the first to confess my disappointment when expectations aren’t met – and typically when that happens, I cast my words into a river of sadness with anger tied around their ankles.
There is a shot early on in The Host where a dozen bloodied limbs fight to break through the door that confines them inside a trailer that barely fits the enormous, mutated river beast devouring the park visitors adjacent to its watery home. And it was in that split second, as I listened to the vivid mix of bones breaking, bodily fluid slurping and human and inhuman screams alike surge into an orchestrated cacophony of creature rampage that I realized The Host had already exceeded my expectations.
Let me not mislead you. The centerpiece of Joon-ho Bong’s masterwork is not two hours of gore or city wide destruction, but the family that simultaneously rages against the bumbling South Korean and American governments, the city’s remaining populous and the monster itself after their prized daughter/niece is ripped away from them. The dynamic between the narcoleptic, helpless father, drunken uncle, and the only-got-the-bronze archer aunt is grounded by the easily relateable grandfather.
Interest in the characters, their motivation and their resolution is instant, thanks to Bong’s expert management of their insecurities. Then there is the script’s often slapstick sense of humor, mixed with a woozy dosage of political satire. However, any political agenda the film has – and I’d hardly call it an agenda, for it doesn’t rip any one issue wide open, but rather gently nibbles on a broad spectrum of social problems – is subservient to the family’s plight.
Family values it may have, but The Host is first and foremost a creature feature. And the creature featured is an endless source of oohs, ahhs and heart poundings. It was brought to life by the tri-wizards behind Weta (Lord of the Rings), John Cox’ Creature Workshop (Babe), and The Orphanage (Hellboy). It’s one beautiful, ugly mutation with details out the deformed wazoo. Its behavior is fascinating and the simple fact that after generations of countless monster movies it can still be original is just another glowing plus sign that trails the A grade.
The score is soaring, the acting is delightful and the cinematography wondrous. My only – and I do stress only – complaint is that during the final battle between the Park kin and the slimy giant the special effects work flounders a tad. There are certain elements that can be hard to digitally recreate – namely water and fire – and it disappoints me to say that it was at this specific point that I became disjointed from the rest of the film’s enrapturous imagination. It isn’t enough to completely shatter the film’s harmony, but it unfortunately allows for enough of a pause for one to think, "couldn’t they have done that a little better?"
I found no moment that was boring or flat, though I should mention that other reviewers have cited some dips in pacing. If there are such moments, they’re dominated by the rest of the film’s highs. I guarantee your stomach and/or jaw will drop on more than one occasion and you’ll not forget the film’s unbridled energy for some time.
The Host receives theatrical release in the US on January 29th and November 11th in the UK. If you can see it in theaters, do not miss the opportunity. If not, this is perhaps the most obvious blind DVD buy I could ever recommend. Even if you don’t fall in love with it like I instantly did, it’s damn near impossible not to be entertained by this South Korean landmark.