Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 59 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Creature Violence, and Language
(Korean with English subtitles)
Directed by: Bong Joon-Ho
Written by: Bong Joon-Ho, Hah Joon-Won, Baek Chul-Hyun
Starring: Song Kang-Ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Park Hae-Il, Bae Doona, Go Ah-Sung
Monster movies come in all shapes and sizes. These can range from a guy rampaging around in a rubber suit in the 1950’s to Syfy Channel movies of the week. The real question is where are all the great monster movies? I can list three that immediately spring to mind from the last decade, but I’d have to really try to think hard about it to pick more. The only notable monster movies of the new millennium that come to mind are THE MIST, THE DESCENT, and this one: THE HOST! When I say the word monster, I’m not referring to classic werewolves, vampires, or zombies (of which there are quite a number of good modern films based around them). I am talking about undefinable creatures that really only have the intent of putting us on the menu. THE HOST has a truly unique beast and also treats the subject matter with respect. Not once, does the film dumb things down or turn into a by-the-numbers B-movie. There are real characters here and a smart story at play.
In South Korea, one American military man has dumped gallons of “dirty” formaldehyde down the drain into the Han River. This pollution results in a mutation that slowly builds its way through the years into a huge nasty creature. Just before we meet the monster, we are introduced to the Park family. Gang-du is a loving father but not the sharpest tool in the shed. Nam-joo is his medal-winning archer sister, Nam-il is his alcoholic brother, and their father runs a food stand on the side of the Han River. When Gang-du’s young daughter is snatched up by the monster that his risen from the Han River and begun eating people, the highly dysfunctional family is united in their goal of getting her back. It certainly makes matters more complicated that the unhelpful government thinks she’s dead and the military is after them based on a virus that is supposedly carried by those who have been in contact with the creature.
THE HOST Is a monster movie with brains. It became the biggest blockbuster in South Korean history and for good reason, the film is an utter crowd-pleasing experience. The chaos involving the monster is spectacular, but doesn’t take up nearly the whole movie. Instead, there’s an actual story at play here. The family of characters are all lovable and there are hysterical bits of comedy throughout that never detract from just how special this entire film is! Everyone seems to blend right into their roles and we believe what we are seeing (which is always a great sign of perfect cinema), even when there’s a giant monster devouring crowds of people.
It certainly makes for an intelligent horror film when there’s not so subtle social commentary involving the US being a constant military presence in South Korea inserted into the storyline. In lesser hands, this could have ruined the movie or detracted from the fun being had. Director/co-writer Bong Joon-Ho wisely incorporates these scathing bits of political satire into the film’s plot, instead of just making it an annoying layer on top of everything at play. Frankly, I can’t think of a single person who won’t love this movie if they give it a chance!
The special effects themselves received some flack from certain critics, but I found them to be top-notch. The creature is an entirely CGI creation, but this is great use of the effects. It looks like what we’re seeing is really there and the design makes for a movie monster that you won’t ever forget. The film juggles its different characters through many situations in the second half, bringing them back together in a finale that’s perfect beyond words. This is how you make a blockbuster horror film! It’s got a smart story, good acting, great effects, constant excitement, and a monster you have to see to believe! What more could you possibly want? THE HOST just might be my favorite monster movie of all-time!