Monster movies fell out of popularity some time ago, but who knew that a Korean import would make them cool again? Joon-ho Bong's The Host is a delicious mix of seriousness, comedy and monster mayhem, and is certainly one of the most unique monster films I have ever seen.
One day, several people in Seoul are enjoying their afternoon on the banks of the Han River when they notice something hanging from the bridge. A second later, it slips into the water and starts swimming toward them. Curiosity draws them closer, but when the creature emerges, its runs amok, killing scores and sending people fleeing. The Park family, who runs a business on the waterfront, is caught in the middle. The young daughter is taken by the monster and presumably killed, but later manages to contact her father on her cell phone. Unfortunately for her, no one wants to listen to her idiotic father, which means it is up to the family to break quarantine and track down the monster themselves.
The Host is a movie of many genres. First and foremost, it is a monster movie. Then again, it's a drama, as Joon-ho spends a lot of time focusing on the developments of the family rather than the monster itself. There are plenty of monster sequences to satisfy, but those looking for non-stop action should look elsewhere. Furthermore, the director treats everything seriously - there is nothing cheesy about The Host and nothing overtly cheesy about the monster. He presents things in a very "realistic" way, which allows the audience to feel the tension in a very direct and realistic way.
Of course, The Host is also a comedy. While generally serious and sometimes quite dark, The Host is littered with comical dialogue and events. Again, the director balances things well - he allows the audience to laugh with the movie, but not at the movie.
So what do I make of a monster movie that is both a drama and a comedy (and a political commentary, too)? It's good - not as good as I was expecting, though - and enjoyable to watch. Rarely have I seen a movie quite like this, where a monster movie is delivered in such a way that nothing feels cheesy or over the top. This isn't Godzilla or Mothra; instead, this is a movie about what would happen if a large creature went amok in the city. The focus is more on the characters than the action, but the director never forgets that he has to be entertaining to make people care.
That being said, The Host isn't as good as I wanted it to be. I think I was just tired from a long day at work (and I watched a late showing), but there are some slow parts, and not enough of the monster. I was hoping for a little more action, especially near the end where the monster charges into a large group of demonstrators - but then the demonstrators all clear out and never return. At almost two hours, The Host is rather long for a movie of its genre; 20 minutes shorter would have done wonders.
Still, there are so many good things about The Host it's hard not to recommend this unique film. The creature design is great, and how it moves is wonderfully original. The special effects aren't always top notch, but this isn't a Hollywood production so it gets away with it (and for the budget, the effects are still quite good). I loved how the director managed to make the movie serious and nearly believable, despite its simple story and plot.
A little tightening of some scenes would have helped out the pacing, but The Host is a fun and entertaining monster movie for the 21st century.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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