Not to be confused with the many other movies out there that’s claimed this admittedly derivative title, Bong Joon-ho’s genre blending monster mash emerged from the swirling waters of 2006 to enthrall any and all who treated themselves to it’s slimy but satirical pleasures. Joon-ho is now famous for winning the Best Picture Oscar for the virtually flawless Parasite but in this film he deals with an parasite of a more literal nature that fuses the best elements of Jaws and Tremors with the cynical social commentary that frequently litter the director’s varied oeuvre.
Due to large amounts of unregulated chemical dumping in Seoul’s Han River, a mutated creature surfaces one sunny day and lays waste to the screaming population who just wanted to kick back and chill out without having to worry about getting swallowed whole by a giant, misshapen leech/salamander thing. During the chaos, well meaning but mentally impaired father Gang-doo watches in horror as the creature scoops up his precocious daughter Hyun-seo and promptly disappears back into the river and as news of the tragedy spreads the remainder of his misfit family converge to loudly grieve and point fingers of blame at one another. As the father, long suffering food kiosk owner Hie-bong, struggles to keep his dysfunctional children in check (mawkish Olympic archer Nam-joo and rage fueled, unemployed college graduate Nam-il), Gang-doo gets a garbled call on his mobile that indicates that his daughter is actually still alive. The family mobilize to try and launch a misguided search and rescue to find the child but hitting multiple set backs thanks to both their own inability to co-exist and the rumour that Gang-doo may have contracted a virus from his close encounter with the gangly piscene. As the unit struggles to get it’s act together, Hyun-seo desperately struggles to remain hidden in the creature’s lair, struggling to stave of the triple threats of starvation, thirst and being disgested; but how long can she possibly last when her would-be rescuers gave no idea how to even FIND the fucjed up fish, let alone kill it?
I’ve always been tickled pink when a monster movie comes out that actually chooses to subvert expectations instead of being a slave to them and The Host is probably the most unpredictable creature feature in recent memory. Straight out of the gate Joon-ho shows that he’s not interested in playing hide-the-monster by having it unexpectedly show up large and in charge in broad daylight for the opening park attack as it rampages around, slurping up victims like popcorn. It’s a bold move but it pays off in spades as with the creature reveal out of the way early it allows the movie to focus fully on it’s quirky leads and the numerous jabs it takes at the expense of the government and society in general.
Much of the film covers the rather throwaway revelation that the government has concocted the story of the virus to gloss over the fact that rampant pollution that they themselves are responsible for is most likely the reason the gloopy creature exists in the first place. Plus their method of ultimately dealing with the being (gassing the shit out of it) will undoubtedly be even more harmful to the environment than the toxins that originally started everything which actually kicks of protests in the streets. We also get a fair few scenes containing a string of complacent civil servants carrying out these orders without any feelings for the public who suffers. It almost reaches Terry Gilliam levels of absurdity, especially during a scene where the family wail, scream, fight and roll around on the floor at the news of Hyun-seo’s “death” while a guard callously yells at a motorist for parking her car in the wrong place.
In fact the movie’s stance that it’s adamant not to give the hapless family virtually any dignity whatsoever is where the film chiefly mines it’s black comedy from, whether failing together or failing individually, not a single one of them can seem to catch a fucking break which is a thread that carries on all the way to the enormously bittersweet climax.
The actors sell the shit out of the suprisingly emotionally complex narrative as Jong-ho regular Kang So-hong gives the simple, tragic Gang-doo multiple layers and Sense-8’s Bae Doona’s giant eyes speaks volumes for the sullen Nam-jo, but everyone brings their A-game for a genre that all too often skimps on human drama in favour of some good old monster mania.
Ah yes, the monster… Taking into account that this is 2006 level CGI for a movie shot an financed in South Korea, The Host slimy star still holds up pretty well despite having that noticable smoothness that computer generated imagery sometimes has primarily thanks to the fact that it’s one gloriously ugly motherfucker (to paraphrase Predator). Sporting numerous limbs, eyes that look like blisters and a segmented maw that undulates like a kaiju’s butthole, it’s as memorable a monster design as Tremors’ Graboids or Cloverfield’s building toppling behemoth but with the added bonus of it being as nimble as a pixies fart. Despite looking as agile as an arthritic knee, this lopsided beastie leaps like a majestic salmon, has the rather unnerving ability to swing itself, trapeze style, on the underside of bridges like a gigantic, disgusting slinky and can vomit the bones of it’s multiple victims up at will like some kind of bulimic leech.
In fact, the only issue I have with The Host is that I’m completely unable to deside what to class it as (I’m know, I’m a nerd…); as the mutant isn’t techincally an animal, I guess – so that marks it out from other such movies such as Jaws or Alligator – but despite it’s political impact on a city in general, the squishy bugger is to small to be classed as a Kaiju either so I guess I’ll just chalk it up as simply a great, fucking creature feature.
Whatever it is, this fiercely intelligent, darkly funny, genuinely touching, environmentally conscious, satirically brutal, utterly unpredictable monster movie could show the creature features of Hollywood a thing or two when it comes to handling things with extraordinarily complicated DNA.