Two Monster Movies

film 2 of 2

The Host

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 29, 2015

As the pundits say, the river sequence that openings this humdinger of a film is pretty virtuosic. But if you don’t mind my saying it, that monster is also pretty computery. It’s not that big of a deal, but the movie does depend upon the monster a lot. Does this synthetic base keep The Host from being completely top tier? For that matter the details of the toxic event and its consequences, as well as the details of American oppression and Korean capitulation, are also kind of sketchy. Since it’s a genre picture, and American unilateralism is so well documented, it may be that that shortcoming doesn’t matter as much. Still, it would appear that one single tadpole drank all that formaldehyde. 

Anyway, there’s still some great stuff here, and it sure is a crowd pleaser. I’m interested in the wild back and forth in tone, which seem quite intentional and maybe even quite reckless. Director Bong pushes the limits four times, or maybe he’s establishing and then advancing a dramatic motif. First in that community centre/mass wake sequence, when real tear-rimmed poignancy gives way to hysterical grief and then out-and-out farce. A similar transformation attends Grandpa’s explanation about Gang-Du’s formidable stupidity. And when the whole family gets to chasing the thing there’s lots of silliness and knockabout. Then, suddenly, Grandpa gets killed. At this juncture no laughs are even attempted. (Also of note is the funny/gross bit where the Americans medically experiment on Gang-Du.) 

Thus far this has been a successful horror/comedy, but the climactic sequence isn’t funny at all. Bong sets it up very well, through the phone call and a few judicious return visits to the missing persons. Maybe it’s the two of them, it’s these children that lend an ultimately prevailing gravity to the whole proceedings. This isn’t sentimentality at all, but a powerful, fairy tale sense of children’s vulnerability and preciousness.

That agent yellow demonstration might be anti-American to the point of ridiculousness, but it also provides a suitably and heart-rendingly apocalyptic setting for the film’s heart-breaking conclusion. That little hand in that great, awful maw! When the father reaches in and pulls them out, when we find the children embracing and then discover that the little girl has given her life for the little boy, the knockabout nonsense resolves into plain, cathartic tragedy. The sudden alignment of those siblings provides real emotional, narrative, even musical resolution. (Of special note is a very daring and successful musical score.) The arrow! And the final, chivalric defeat of the dragon! The coda is also very fine, emotionally registering in direct disproportion to its muted modesty. 

Look at that. Maybe The Host is top tier after all.