A touching, unsentimental family drama...
…that happens to revolve around a giant, carnivorous monster.
The Host was, from my perspective, one of the most hyped-up and positively received movies of the past year. But the question I had to ask myself was: Is it my kind of movie? I mean, come on: a monster movie? Even if it does completely reinvent the genre, even if Korea is supposedly where 'it' is at these days, even if everyone seems to love it to bits…
Then again, I thought, maybe I will check it out. And yes, okay, it is brilliant.
Now, one thing that annoys me beyond measure, and which I may write (read: rant) about in more depth in future, are those who look at the Hollywood mainstream and declare that no new ideas are possible. They've all been had already. It's not that the Hollywood mainstream has lost its courage for trying new things, no: there are no more new things. But you only have to look at the more creative fraction of the Hollywood mainstream itself to see that there are plenty of new ideas. Hell, coming up with new ideas is easy. Figuring out which new ideas are actually any good is the hard part, and also the part which those more concerned with profit than creativity are so reluctant to engage in.
So, although Hollywood now considers the monster movie ripe for nothing but parody (i.e. making fun of what all monster movies do the same), here we have a group of filmmakers elsewhere who have quite happily made their own, original and much lauded monster movie - completely free of tiresome clichés and self-perpetuating genre trappings.
In contrast to pretty much every other monster movie ever made, The Host avoids taking a grand and dehumanising perspective. The entire story focuses on a single family inadvertently caught up in events when the monster makes its appearance: causing mayhem and snatching the family's youngest member, Hyun-seo. In the face of obtuse authority figures, the dim-witted Gang-Du, his alcoholic, unemployed brother Nam-il, their father, and their archery bronze-medalist sister Nam-Joo all set out to confront the creature and save Hyun-seo. Throughout the film, we are deliberately denied the whole story - especially those parts of the plot that your typical monster movie might be expected to focus on, such as where the monster has come from, who is responsible, the full nature of the conspiracy behind it - because none of that matters. We are following events from the view of the Park family, and all they care about is getting Hyun-seo back. The rest is just academic.
This take on the monster movie is itself quite novel (and compelling), but it's the execution that really sets The Host apart. The tone segues perfectly between suspense and spectacle; tragedy and humour. Both the monster and action scenes are very well done. And, as I've come to expect from the latest and best movies from Korea, the film is quite simply visually perfect. On top of that are other unexpected treats - for example the tense, eerie side-story of how Hyun-seo survives in the monster's lair.
The Host has very pleasantly surprised me. The introduction of the monster, quite early in the film, was the first point at which I first realised that I was watching some very good stuff. As befits a film from the perspective of people caught up helplessly in a monster movie, the creature's appearance, although there is some build-up to it, is so blatant and sudden that I didn't even realise what I was looking at for a few seconds. I expect the same kind of "What am I looking at? Oh crap!" reaction probably occurs with everyone who sees this scene, and I'll avoid spoiling it with further discussion.
Although The Host has been generally very well received, I don't think it's a movie likely to be much enjoyed by those who scoff at anything that's the least bit unconventional. On the other hand, if you're looking for something strange and beautiful, you have my latest recommendation.