Friday, September 24, 2010

A monster brings fractured family together

The Host (aka "Gwoemul" and "Monster") (2007)
Starring: Kang Ho, Hie-bong Byeon, Ah-Song Ko, Hae-il Park, and Du-na Bae
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Steve's Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The Parks are a slightly dysfunctional family whose members never quite manage to acheive true success due to an everpresent combination of bad luck and various personality flaws. However, they must pull together and overcome their weaknesses when the baby of the family is abducted by a monster and only they can save her.

"The Host" is a monster movie that delivers equal amounts of suspense, humor and horror as it unfolds. In this, it is equal to other great monster movies from the original "Godzilla" to "Island of Terror", and through to "Slither". What sets this film apart from other monster movies is the Park family in this movie. The way NONE of them can ever quite manage to rise to whatever challenge is facing them is alternately funny, tragic, sad (sometimes all three at the same time), and so realistic that it gives this movie a totally unique quality. Although families drawing together to fight a monster threatening them--and ultimately triumphing exactly because they have drawn together-- is nothing new, I don't think there's ever been a movie family quite like the Parks before.

(Nowhere was the Park family trait of never quite crossing the threshold of success more clearly spelled out when the 7th-grader who the rest of the family is trying to rescue devises a way out of the monster's lair on her own... only to discover that all her work amounts to nothing when her rope made from the clothes of partially digested victims ends up being too short to be useful.)

This film is even more impressive because of the way the story resolves itself. The outcome of the climactic battle is in perfect keeping with everything we know about the Parks and their lives, but I still expected I very different ending than what was delivered.

With a good script, excellent special effects, decent acting, and some fantastic moments (the sequence where the monster attacks the crowds in the park along the Han River is one of the best monster attack scenes ever put on film,), the film could have rated a Nine or even Ten if not the way it starts to meander a bit as it closes in on its climax. Basically, the director and screenwriters felt the need to inject a nefarious conspiracy by the United States military into the film--probably so they wanted the International Community to know how kewl they are!--and it served no purpose other than to slow things down and detract from the film's center, the Park family. It's a testament to how strong everything else is that it stays on track and manages to pull together for its climax.

Aside from a single misstep motivated by the director's desire to be invited to cocaine-fueled orgies at Hugo Chavez's presidential palace (or maybe just to get a fan letter from Kim Jong-Ill), "The Host" is a spectacular monster movie with a unique flaire. Every horror fan should check it out, particularly if you enjoyed "Tremors" or "Slither".