‘The Host’ Review: It’s Not What You Think

Posted in The Screening Room by - June 18, 2015

Monster Movie month has been fantastic so far, and The Host continues that trend. I had heard nothing but good things about the film, and I wasn’t disappointed. It features not only a truly unique creature, but also some of the most human characters I’ve seen in a monster film. It’s a film about loss and suffering, but also about the bonds of family.

The plot of the films follow Park Gang-Du, a lazy snack-bar owner, as his daughter Hyun-seo is kidnapped by a monster that comes out of the Han River. Park and his father Hee-bong, along with his sister Nam-joo and brother Nam-il, take it upon themselves to hunt down the monster and save Hyun-seo. However, before they can begin to hunt down the beast, they are taken into custody by the US government and quarantined due to the monster spreading a virus. Once able to escape, they pursue the monster all over the city, attempting to discern the location of Hyun-seo, all the while evading the US military.

I’m not terribly familiar with Korean film, so I was not aware going into the film the popularity of Song Kang-Ho, who plays Park. He is one of Korea’s top leading men, and is practically unrecognizable in the film as the blond haired dad. However, he is the emotional heart of the film, and turns in a fantastic performance as the distraught father. You really feel his pain and heartache throughout the film as he searches for his daughter. Byun Hee-bong also turns in a memorable performance as Park’s father Hee-bong. He tries to keep his family together, even while the world around them falls apart. His performance was my favorite from the movie as you see him realize that he wasn’t always the best father, and that may be why his family is so dysfunctional. 

The design of the unnamed monster of the film is wholly unique, and one that a fair amount of monster movie makers could learn from. Unlike films like Jaws or the new Godzilla, the creature is shown outright almost immediately, save for the prologue scenes that feature the origins of the beast. The only way I can classify it is as a fish that’s grown arm and legs along with a Predator-like mouth. It swallows its prey whole, digests them, then, in one particularly nasty scene, vomits out the bones in a deluge of human waste. There are also normal fish stuck into its back, which flop out in one scene when the beast is attacked. It’s a strange design, but one that works, since the monster is a product of government pollution. It is also a smart beast, tricking one of the characters into attempting to escape, only to attack it mid-escape.

There are also some anti-American sentiments in the film, particularly towards the use of Agent Orange, or in the film’s case Agent Yellow. Agent Yellow is what the American government used to try and kill the monster, obviously drawing comparisons to the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. It’s a thinly veiled jab at the American military, but one that works in the scope of the film. The Americans in The Host are also all either inept or nefarious, trying to experiment on Park due to his close encounter with the beast. They also directly cause the creation of the beast due to the actions of an American pathologist who deems it better to dump expired formaldehyde down the drain as opposed to disposing of it properly. There are no punches pulled in the film in relation to the United States.

The Host isn’t your typical monster movie, frankly it’s more drama than actual monster flick. It focuses more on the characters, their interactions, and their emotional states of being rather than just throwing a monster on screen and having it senselessly destroy Seoul for an hour. I enjoyed the careful attention to characters and the work put in to making them feel real, transcending the characteristically Korean feel of the film. While the film ends on an optimistic note, it is an overall downer and is the definition of an emotional roller-coaster. It might be the best, if not the most human, monster film of the month.

Final Say: Watch It

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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