This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2006’s The Host.
2019 has been a hell of a year for director, Bong Joon-ho. The South Korean director has been making films since 2000 with his debut Barking Dogs Never Bite, and has become one of the biggest South Korean directors around with films that include Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017) and of course, Parasite (2019). The latter of which has famously become one of the most critically acclaimed films of recent years, appearing (often near the top) of various best of 2019 and best of decade lists by critics, went on win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and there have been buzz circling that it could be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Before all of that, however, 13 years prior, Joon-ho made the monster movie, The Host (2006). The plot stars Song Kang-ho as Gang-du, a goofy, clumsy guy who runs a small snack-bar with his father (Byun Hee-bong) and has a young daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Soon, tragedy strikes when a huge creature emerges from the Han river and begins attacking, killing, eating and kidnapping people, including Hyun-seo, leaving Gang-du devastated. Believing that Hyun-seo is still alive, Gang-du makes his mission to find her, with help from his brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and sister, Nam-joo (Bae Noo Na)
Something that Joon-ho is not afraid to do is to tip into genre film-making. He has done so with most of his films in a way that, while a lot of them deal with heavy themes (Parasite for example, deals with class prejudice and capitalistic greed), often make them very fun and entertaining crowd-pleasers. Here, The Host is a monster movie and creature feature in sometimes a very pure way – it centres on a goofy hero who, over the course of the movie, matures and becomes a better person (in the vein of Simon Pegg’s titular hero in Shaun of the Dead (2004)) and often includes various sequences of people running scared from the titular monster in the vein of monster movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Godzilla (1954) and Jaws (1975)
However, much like a lot of his work, the film balances a lot of different genres, including black comedy, family drama and social satire. The black humour is very successful here, particularly in a scene after the first creature attack where all the family over-dramatically wail on the floor in grief at Hyun-seo’s (apparent) death. The social satire here is also very well-drawn and successful. It is quite similar to Okja in how the film details what happens to the environment when humanity is hapless and not sensitive.
The film, however, really succeeds because of the family drama and relationship drama. The relationship between Gang-du and Hyun-seo in the film is very well-drawn and interesting, as is the various relationships between various family members. The film also gives all of the characters rounded arcs, and in a very Joon-ho way, the characters are stereotypes that subvert them over the course of the film – Nam-il is a smart, pretentious college graduate that is actually an emotional distressed alcoholic; Nam-joo is a sophisticated and famous archer that is actually nervous and self-sabotaging and Gang-du is a clumsy misfit that turns out to be brave and heroic. In contrast to some monster movies to come out recently (like Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)), the film takes real care and gives real depth to it’s main characters, and still manages to feel like an intelligent, personal movie.
The only problem with the film is that is not that scary. The monster itself is not that terrifying, unlike the central monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Also, the film seems to be a little confused as whether to take the film-making approach in not showing the monster as a was of building tension, in the same vein as Jaws, or showing the monster in full to scare the viewer, in the same vein as The Thing (1982). The end result is that sometimes the monster is on screen, and sometimes not, and this all feels a little uneven. Also, it seems like they would of been benefited from not showing it, because the design is not that terrifying.
Joon-ho might be the auteur of 2020 for me – I am still to watch his first two films and Mother and I honestly can’t wait to watch them. Parasite is honestly one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and although, I’ve only seen it once, it’s probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life. However, The Host still remains a complete triumph for Bong Joon-ho. It is a fun, entertaining monster movie that still manages to feel like a small personal movie from him. It was really terrific.
Next Week on Horror Tuesday: The Orphanage (2007)