Yours truly, the Grim Gnome, doesn’t get out to many movies in the theatre whether due to laziness, stinginess or perhaps because the foul odor of toadstool flatulence I have makes the box-office drones think twice before they sell me a ticket. But I did recently take in a late night screening of “The Host,” that Korean monster movie that everyone is raving about.
To avoid disappointment, remember “The Host” is a monster movie not exactly a horror movie. Don’t expect much sickening revulsion – though my stomach did sort of turn when the character ate a can of some sort of snail-like delicacy. And in another scene a human skull drops to the floor with a very satisfying “kellop.” So though it’s Korean, “The Host” is not Asian extreme by any stretch.
And don’t get too distracted by the questionable causes that give rise to the monster. Or why no one really noticed it until it grew so gosh-darned big. Or what it ate, say, the week BEFORE it made its first attack… Those kinds of things never matter much. I’m not giving away much to say that Americans are responsible and we come off as rather amusingly obsessive, inept and beligerent by turns. In one scene, just outside of a high security military hospital American soldiers are surprised in the midst of an impromptu barbecue.
So what IS important in a monster movie like “The Host?” Maybe it’s how the monster threatens the main character. The main character of “The Host” is a ne’er-do-well father and, again I’m not giving away TOO much to say the monster steals his daughter. What is intriguing about “The Host,” as opposed to perhaps a more Hollywood-ish approach, is that the “hero” enlists the more-or-less reluctant help of his family during the rescue. The family-oriented/group-hero set-up doesn’t make “The Host” exactly an ensemble piece, nor does it feel very insightful to attribute it to a commonplace of Asian identity. Regardless, it felt fresh to see the various family members each confront their own flaw to confront the beast, far cooler than to see a solitary hero strap on whatever firepower is necessary and have a show-down with the beast. “The Host” makes me wonder what kind of monster movies could be made domestically if a less individualistic bias guided the narrative.
Whenever I see a “foreign” movie I am prepared not to understand all of the cultural codes that are at play. I suspect these hidden codes are why some aspects stay strange (I call this the “French-folks-love-Jerry-Lewis” phenomenon) while others just feel fresh. And some things go between the two. A couple scenes in “The Host” exhibit this transition deliciously, for instance, the scene when the family re-unites at a shrine for a younger member who is presumed dead. The histrionic mourning went from sentimental pathos, over the line into something that felt very alien and indescribable and then seamlessly into slapstick comedy. This wasn’t the only moment in the movie that I would like to watch again. Oddly, none of the scenes I want to re-view involve the monster.
OK so I feel obligated to MENTION the monster at least in a review of a monster movie. But let me get this off my hairy little chest first: I don’t like to see monsters and especially not computer generated ones. Take me back to the days of latex prosthetics, stop motion animation and over-acted reaction shots, not to mention virgin sacrifices, public executions and luxurious railway travel. Computer Generated Imaging — how shall I put this politely? — largely sucks. Granted, “The Blair Witch Project” tried to get away with too much but I really, really don’t mind seeing much more than shadows and footprints until the third act. Having said that, “The Host” is a pretty cool design with an excellent mode of locomotion on the supports of the bridge. And the first appearance of the critter is a rather lengthy, full-sun scene which, I have to say honestly, I didn’t mind very much — which is probably saying a lot right there.
Not that you should give two pickled crickets about my opinion, but I didn’t exactly “love” “The Host,” not as much as I was lead to think I might but I did like it quite a bit. And I’ll probably watch it again when it’s out on DVD. You might want to as well.