While it roars and gobbles innocents, I wouldn't necessarily classify the South Korean film "The Host" as a monster movie. The picture seems more interested in the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, punctuated with the appearance of a fish/dinosaur hybrid beast that rampages around picking off helpless human beings.
Gang-du (Song Kang-ho) is a dim-witted concession vendor making a living with his father and daughter by the Han River in Seoul. One afternoon, a ferocious mutated creature, born of chemicals dumped at a nearby US military base, rises up out of the water and proceeds to chomp its way around the area, taking with it Gang-du's daughter for later consumption. In a state of shock over the events, Gang-du's family comes to his aid, and when word surfaces that the child is still alive somewhere in the labyrinthine sewers of Seoul, they team up to kill the monster and bring the girl home.
"The Host" defines itself by the way it conducts business. It's crafted with homages to past monster movies such as "Godzilla," but you can never predict what is going to happen next; it's also a lament for the distance between family members and the allegiance that comes with blood; finally, "Host" is a satire/warning sign of military might and careless polluting (a majority of the barbs are aimed at, but not skewering, the US armed forces).
However you define "The Host," it has one constant: it's a thrilling motion picture. Director Bong Joon-ho could've easily mired the film in a blockbuster mentality, but he wants something more from this monster mash. He pays careful attention to the characters and their brittle interaction, the consequences of heroism and fear, and the sheer splendor of big screen horror. Utilizing sublime compositions and crisp, lucid cinematography, "Host" is a stunning film that plays by its own rules to great effect, constantly thwarting cliché until it comes time to use formula to best engage the audience.
While the acting fits the picture's temperamental attitude, it's the creature that's the star of the show, and the beast takes to the spotlight fantastically. A special effects company called The Orphanage took on the considerable task of rendering this CG monster, and their efforts are remarkable. Bong makes an unusual demand for his film: his creature primarily shows up the daytime, far outside of the safety blanket that darkness provides. The mutant rampage sequences are absolutely killer here, captured with outstanding visibility to best soak up the terror of this beast, and the elegance of its prowl.
Sure, you can spot the limitations of the special effects, but Bong's intent, that we actually get to see this thing coming after the characters during an idyllic Seoul afternoon, is incredible. It warrants a second, third, and fourth viewing of the film just to believe your eyes during the more complex shots.
While the satire is an inch too heavy-handed, and Bong's stuttery pacing can confuse the film's velocity, "The Host" is a mesmerizing, occasionally gangbusters dark ride that invigorates the long dead genre's potential for scares and composite storytelling. As Gang-du and his family tag-team their way through gutters and setbacks in their hunt for both human and horror, Bong has masterminded a crackerjack viewing experience that puts a majority of Americanized thrill rides to shame.
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