Every now and again a great piece of original entertainment comes along, something that takes a common theme, adds something sparkling, relevant, creating a new whole. In this case, it happens to be a breath of fresh air for the “monster” film genre and the title of the film is The Host. The monster story in this movie is good but it’s the film’s family elements that make this film so noteworthy. Others would seem to agree since this Korean film has already been singled out for a remake in the United States. All the adorations aside, I have not seen a monster movie this good in years. The reason why The Host is so satisfying is because it is a family drama masquerading as a monster film. Godzilla (all of them), Lake Placid, The Ghost and the Darkness, The Blob and most of their genre brothers and sisters were all lackluster to good monster films at best but their human elements almost always meandered as unrealistic and non-substantive. The inhabitants of these films were simply waiting to be killed off or to survive, in one piece, the absolutely farcical and ultra dangerous situations that would see the end of a top tier team of Green Berets.
That is what is so novel about The Host, no one is safe. A dose of reality has been added to the monster movie genre in this film. When you watch the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you know from the beginning that nothing is going to happen to Jessica Biel. Sure, the protagonist will be put into perilous situations at the hands of a misanthrope and the idiotic decisions on their and other characters part but that is it. These characters are the audience’s bridge into the presented world on screen and some writers/directors feel that the destruction of that bridge will be detrimental to their film. The Host’s director, Joon-ho Bong, takes a chance with his bridges and it pays off in the end by escalating his film beyond the established limits of its genre.
The Host revolves around the five members of a slightly dysfunctional family consisting of a father, Hie-bong Park (Hie-bong Byeon), his champion archer daughter Nam-Joo Park (Du-na Bae), a son he has put through college, Nam-il Park (Hae-il Park), another son prone to dozing off, Gang-Du Park (Kang-ho Song) and Gang-Du’s 13-year-old daughter Hyun-Seo Park (Ah-sung Ko). In some scenes these people actually make you believe they have known each others for years. They call each other names behind each others back, crack insensitive jokes and hit each other. Though the family has its problems, they have nothing to do with emergence of the film’s monster. When formaldehyde is carelessly dumped into the Han River (a stream of water that flows through Seoul into the Yellow Sea) at the beginning of The Host, the film’s mutant monster soon makes its first full on-screen appearance, after two smaller off-screen sightings. During its third appearance and subsequent rampage against unarmed civilians, Hyun-seo is kidnapped by it and initially thought dead. When it is revealed that she is still alive, her family breaks out of the hospital all the rampage survivors are being kept in and go in search of Hyun-seo.
This is the point where The Host notches up the tension and where the drama involving the Parks comes to fruition and blooms. When the family becomes separated during the course of their search, handing off leads to one another via the means at their disposal, the lambency of The Host’s screenplay comes out for all to see. Its just good and effective plot construction and once again, something you would not expect in a mere monster film. Sure the computer generated effects could be better in some scenes but when the effects need to be great, they are. Case and point: when the monster regurgitates some of its victims, very well done. The monster in The Host is the main draw for the film’s marketing campaign but in actuality, it’s the film’s human elements which are its real center piece.
Joon-ho Bong’s The Host is a film I did not expect to be as good as it was based upon the trailers released for it. I was wrong. Many films have great trailers but sometimes the films they advertise fail to deliver when the lights go down in the movie theater. Sometimes the trailers are actually better than the films themselves. Neither of these is the case with The Host. The advertisements for this film actually fail to sell or even hint at this film’s true strengths. This may have cost the film dearly in box office receipts but since it is being so well received (its the highest grossing film in South Korean history), people are actually being given a surprise when all they think they are going to see is the latest monster flick.