In a U.S. Army Base, a germophobic scientist (Scott Wilson) instructs his assistant (Brian Rhee) to dump loads of chemicals down the drain and into the nearby Han River, because the bottles are covered in dust. The result is exactly what you would expect. That is, if you expect a giant fish monster.
The Host has a beautifully shot opening after this U.S. diversion. A man, leaning hopelessly over a bridge, staring into the murky depths below, notices something large and dark in the water. As rain funnels down around the man, those around him largely ignore his mumblings. Putting them off as fools, he flips himself over the side and into the depths below. As he falls, we see a glorious long shot of him falling in sync with the rain. Then, the title card fades in. It is absolutely mesmerizing.
When we get through this short period of backstory, we jump ahead six years. Somewhat dim and economically lowly Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) runs a fast food stand and cares for his daughter (Ko A-sung) and father (Byun hee-bong). One average day, Gang-du becomes wrapped up in a vicious skirmish between man and creature. This initial, brutal attack is cross-cut with Gang-du’s father and daughter watching tape of his sister in an archery competition. This banal activity, in juxatposition with the attack outside, is darkly humorous and emotionally effective.
Once Gang-du gets back to his family, they attempt to escape. Only, Gang-du loses track of his daughter. In an impassioned, under-cranked sequence, we see the daughter get ripped away by the tail of the sea monster and dragged into the depths of the river. It is another wonderfully filmed moment.
The Host is a rescue film. It is a creature feature. It is a dark comedy. It is a satire on the relations between the government and the common folk, as well as pandemic politics. It is a blend of so many different things that it’s hard to believe that the plot centers around a giant amphibious slug of a monster.
Perhaps the comedy and the CG effects of the monster makes the film feel a bit campy, and thus tonally unbalanced, but there is a lot to enjoy with The Host. Scenes develop wonderfully within themselves. Exciting action sequences are scored with intense and vibrant strings. The family’s interwoven story centered around the daughter is engaging throughout, particularly as we see Gang-du get more and more desperate.
A scene between Gang-du and an American doctor and translator portrays the thesis of this film perfectly. Gang-du cries that all he wants is to be heard. The doctor, initially sympathetic, begins instead to coldly analyze the spreading virus inside his body, thus ironically not listening to Gang-du at all. After we get this, we get the satirical turn of the film, which I am not at liberty to spoil.
The Host is a wonderful blend of genre. Where horror films are generally geared to the established horror fan base, this creature feature has a lot for non-horror fans to enjoy.
As always, thanks for watching!
Have you seen The Host? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)