The Host was okay. According to its DVD cover, it is one of the best monster movies of all time. It is also “on a par with Jaws.” Based on these rave reviews, I had deliciously high hopes of a monster movie that would not only have a wicked cool monster (like Cloverfield), but also be original in its presentation (like Cloverfield). Instead I got an awkward story about a family that I didn’t care much about, coming together in the attempt to rescue the daughter of the group from a giant sea creature.
The sea creature gave me some trouble. It had an origin story, which was kind of nice. Apparently pouring tons of formaldehyde into a river causes an animal (that bears no resemblence to any real living organism that I can think of) to mutate and grow to be about the size of an elephant. There’s no real way to describe this thing, with its pointy-lipped mouth with what appears to be an enormous vagina inside of it. It’s this kind of thing that makes Freudian philosophers jump up and yell “I told you so.” Where I was struggling was with understanding why it was doing what it was doing. It apparently spontaneously decided that it would hop up on land for the first time (after growing underwater for a decade) and start destroying/killing/eating people. Then, apparently for the sake of having a hostage, it decides to swallow people whole, in order to, I guess, eat them later. Miraculously, despite the myriad of corpses around her, the little girl is able to survive being swallowed and then regurgitated. It’s not really clear why the monster is behaving the way it is… or where it learned how to do Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon style flips on the support beams of tunnels. Really, the monster just happens to have whatever abilities that are required for the story to move ahead. By the end, we intentionally don’t get answers, as the “protagonist,” Gang-du turns off his television just as the news broadcast is explaining the situation. It was a cute way of making sure that the attention stayed on the characters rather than on the spectacle of giant-monsterness.
Second issue, I never really knew how to feel about what was going on. During the family’s enormous break-down when they believe the young girl to be dead, the Park family is wailing and flailing, rolling around on the ground in lament. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but it seems really inappropriate. Even if it’s meant to be black comedy, it’s done in a more outrageous, uncomfortable way than I am used to. A similar awkward dual sentiment occurs when the father/grandfather (Hie-bong) is telling two of his children about why they shouldn’t make fun of their other brother. As Hie-bong pours his heart out, in what had potential to be a really impactful scene, the siblings fall asleep and snore loudly, while Hie-bong carries on as if nothing has happened. Again, it looks like it’s supposed to be funny, and I guess the fact that it doesn’t feel like a joke is a joke…. Ha.
The next paragraph holds spoilers, but I also rant about my least favourite part of the movie. Feel free to skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know who dies.
Gang-du is the little girl’s father. By the time she dies near the end of the movie, she has befriended a little orphan boy in the monster’s feeding pit. Once the monster is killed and everything is back to normal, we see Gang-du, at home, taking care of the orphan. On one hand, we could see this as a rebuilding after a terrible tragedy, but daddy seems completely unaffected by the loss of his daughter. Already established as a simple-minded character, his attitude suggests an acceptance of human interchangeability. One kid dies? No worries, we’ve got this other kid about her age right here! I was probably mostly upset by the situation because of the little girl (Hyun-seo)’s status as the most compelling character in the whole film. Her replacement seems disrespectful to her character’s bravery, spunk, and compassion.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, it seems really foolish that if you are trying to establish a family of characters that are flawed and seemingly unspectacular, it doesn’t make much sense to have them have apparent superpowers. To take out the monster, the American government decides to release “Agent Orange” in the area, hoping to destroy the creature. This is a chemical that scientists believe will be able to stop an enormous amphibious animal dead in its tracks. So why, in the name of all acceptable suspension of disbelief, would the entire goddamn family be able to fight the monster (who at least falls down) at peak performance with little damage other than a little bleeding from their ears. Five minutes before, we saw a group of protesters pass out (assumedly dying) from the chemicals, but no, these three siblings (plus the orphan boy) are able to withstand an absurdly poisonous toxin and save the day… Eff that.