This monster movie from South Korea is an unexpected treat. I expected a fishy B movie with an overload of special effects. But “The Host,” being a foreign film, bracingly dives and makes a big splash on the genre. It has style.
Its story starts out somewhat generic. As often learned in movies like this, toxify the Earth and you’re bound to create a monster. Well, as imagined, dump enough formaldehyde in the Han river and waalah, a water beast is born. And what a beast it is! With a highly evolved mouth and acrobatic skills, the elephantine creature is relentless once it hunts for human bites. One of its abducted victims is a smart schoolgirl, who, for the sake of suspense, is kept alive, trapped in the monster’s dump as her family seeks her out.
The premise is typical, but what is atypical is its birthing of another creature: humor. It’s askew and screwy enough to give the movie an added dimension of unworldliness. Consider the scene where the family reunites to mourn the missing schoolgirl. It’s a full-on weep-fest that starts out bleak but peaks in a surreal comedic tone. This also extends to the girl’s blondie dad (Song Kang-ho) who is incredibly slow-witted. His stupidity is a source for some funny scenes, but on afterthought, you realize the consequences ends up tragic. The fact that “The Host” can drive from one emotion to another in one scene or one character is evidence of its high performance.
The movie’s production is well-oiled as well. The cinematography – especially the dynamic filming of the creature’s first rampage – is well-executed. The music has unexpected charm that plays out tones of sadness and whimsy. And the monster itself is captured just right. It does not overwhelm the picture. The filmmakers still manages to elicit fear whether we only see glimpses of the beast, or even better, when it’s out of frame.
“The Host” is all very impressive until I started thinking about the plot. The third act has trivial scenes that only amount to intriguing. And what is with this gas-emitting “Yellow Agent” business in the film’s finale? It is said to be toxic but it doesn’t do anything to the heroes. It was only to smoke up the background and score more points for cinematography. I’ll just chalk it up as part of its weirdness, which is mostly a boon. I do hope we do get more weirder breed of monster movies like this. “The Host” is superior over the same-old same-old that Hollywood usually craps out. Just what exactly is in the water South Koreans are drinking?
Kang-ho Song, Byun Hee-bong, Bae Hae-il, Bae Doo-na, and Ko A-sung
Rated R for creature violence and language.