The Host really caught me off guard. I had heard it was a great monster movie, and I was also interested in it because of the director Bong-Joon Ho, who directed the great looking ‘Snowpiercer’ as well. The Host (not to be confused with last years ‘Twilight’ with aliens) is an emotional, scary, and often darkly humorous monster movie. It’s also one of the best movies I’ve written about yet. Joon ho walks such a thin line with the tone for this movie, as it can shift dramatically in any given scene. It’s like being on a cinematic roller coaster, where you never know what you’re going to feel next, but more on that later.
The movie begins with a scene of an American military scientist (played by Hershel from Walking Dead) who demands that a subordinate dump all the old, dusty bottles of formaldehyde down the drain. The assistant tells him that it will lead straight into the Han river, but it doesn’t change his mind. After pouring out what seems to be hundreds of bottles, the movie jumps 6 years. The protagonist is Gang-du, the lazy and seemingly dim-whited owner of a snack bar, who works with his father and has a young daughter named Hyun-seo. When a massive creature emerges from the Han river, wreaking havoc on the nearby Seoul, Hyun-seo is taken in the process, and her family has to hunt her down. While it’s a simple premise, the movie also heavily satirizes the indifference and ineptitude of both the South Korean Government and the American presence there. It reminded me a lot of where District 9 goes with it’s story, as the government in ‘The Host’ is quick to hide the truth and to bury their mistakes, no matter what the cost.
Back to the tone of the movie, probably the most interesting component. I feel like if any other director tried to make this script (also written by Joon ho) it would not work at all. The movie has a very dark sense of humor that works well with the nature of the plot, but unlike most dark comedies, you never stop caring about the characters. All of the characters are interesting and relatable, especially Gang-du and his fathers character, Hee-bong. The stakes rise and rise for the entire movie, never letting up for a second. The ending is a quiet and bittersweet one that I didn’t really think would actually happen, but with the unpredictable hour and a half leading up to it, I should’ve expected as much.
The cinematography in The Host was also beautiful. I read that Joon-ho was a cinematographer before a director, and that’s easy to say. His lighting is warm and vibrant, and his staging is equally as beautiful. This is a guy that’s going to make some gorgeous movies at the very least, and with the writing on this one, probably equal amounts smart and emotional, no matter what genre he tackles. I’m excited for what Joon-ho does in the future (and I’m definitely going to revisit his other movies already made). He’s a director who can tackle a big genre like ‘monster movies’ and shake it around into his own creation, without resorting to cliches or tropes that go along with it. Putting characters first, he understands what makes movies great. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that he’ll likely prove this point again and again.