Written by Caballero Oscuro
Do you like dramatic monster movies like Jaws? Do you like dysfunctional family comedies like Little Miss Sunshine? What if you could get both of those fine flavors in one tasty Korean film? It’s a difficult trick to pull off, and unfortunately The Host doesn’t quite make it.
The Host has two major items of interest: it boasts some special effects work by Peter Jackson’s Weta gang, and it’s the all-time box office champ in South Korea. It was seen by over 13 million viewers during its run in Korea last year, an astonishing figure in a country of around 50 million. So what’s all the fuss about? Sure, we have a scary and innovative monster brought to life exceptionally well by CG wizards. We also have comedic family dynamics played out by talented actors. There’s even some light political commentary about US involvement in South Korean affairs, but nothing particularly notable. Unfortunately, the film is lacking a tight script to hold the disparate elements together, so we’re left with momentary bursts of terror and comedy surrounded by slowly-paced filler and an unsatisfying conclusion.
The film opens in a lab populated by a US scientist and his Korean assistant. The deranged US boss determines that they should dispose of large amounts of formaldehyde simply because of some dust on its containers, so his obedient assistant proceeds to dump the toxic liquid down the drain where it runs into the mighty Han River. Flash forward a few years, and suddenly the populace is menaced by a whale-sized critter living in the river. The creature is incredibly impressive, especially his unique way of moving along the underside of a bridge. Oh yes, this isn’t just a water-based monster, he’s also able to run on land and hang upside down from overpasses. There’s no direct explanation of what animal he mutated from, or how the toxic substance came into play, but you won’t really care once you see this impressive freak of nature in action.
Meanwhile, a family with a snack shop beside the river is about to have a very bad day. Each character is just a tad bit off the norm, adding a unique dynamic to the family unit, and while it’s clear they’re all fond of each other it’s not clear how so many oddballs could be in the same family. The monster decides to check out the scene on land one day, unfortunately deciding to catch some rays and some humans near the snack shop. When the youngest daughter gets captured by the creature, the rest of the family bands together to go on a quest to locate her and bring her home safely.
The film builds up suitable suspense in its early stages, but constantly allows it to dissipate by switching between the various family members once they get separated. We follow the young daughter as she finds herself in the monster’s den, then switch to her family’s adventure as they pursue the monster and get separated along the way. Each time the film follows a family member, it seems to lead up to a conclusion for their arc such as certain death or at least removal from the monster hunt, then switches to another character where we follow the same scenario. The problem is that characters that seem to be down for the count come back for more, so even though we think we’ve seen the last of a character and can focus on the search with the remaining players, we’re suddenly thrust back to the presumably dead characters where the tension-building process starts all over again. By the time the film reaches its inevitable conclusion, it has lost so much momentum that the end is just a relief instead of a culmination of carefully stacked plot lines.
The Host isn’t particularly scary or gory, and its comedic family elements give it a broad-based appeal that certainly explains some of its success in its homeland. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have the consistent, breakneck pacing needed to produce a truly exhilarating experience, so viewers are left with an absolutely astounding monster trapped in a poorly executed family search for reunion.