Probably the only Asian horror movies I’ve looked forward to in the past two years is Bong Joon-ho’s THE HOST, a Korean creature feature that has people all over the world talking. With the creature designed by Weta, Orphanage and Creature Workshop and the film inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, how could it go wrong? Unfortunately I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but in the end you still have one of the most ambitious and interesting creature features in decades.
The story concerns a carnivorous mutant in Seoul’s Han River that attacks city folk and kidnaps a little girl. The family thinks she is dead but when they get a phone call from a sewer by the river they embark on a hunt to find their lost family member and kill the beast who took her.
Even though there are a few major problems, the screenplay for THE HOST is one of the strongest things about the film. In the movie we are told the story of a broken family who is re-united by the loss of their niece/daughter/granddaughter. Once they find out that she’s still alive, the hunt for the beast brings them together once again. The fact that we didn’t always have to be entertained by the monster the entire film says a lot about the film. On the flipside, one of the weaker sides of the screenplay though was the development of the creature.
In all good creature features, you’re supposed to have a strong sympathy for the monster- the creature doesn’t want to be a monster, he just is! In THE HOST you don’t give a crap out this aquatic beast and just wish for his horrific death as soon as possible. King Kong and Frankenstein are perfect examples of how a film like this should be told and Bong Joon-ho dropped the ball on that aspect of the film.
Another thing that really bothered me was the development of “the infection”, which ends up going nowhere. Our main character even screams about how it feels like there’s something crawling under his skin and complains of a rash… and yet it goes nowhere! The build up on this infection wastes a good 30 minutes of the film, slows the pacing down astronomically and could have easily been removed from the plot or at least been developed into something other than a myth.
The most astounding part of the film was the creature design, which was remarkable and incredibly ambitious. It was like a cross between a dinosaur, a tremor and a giant squid with giant teeth. The visual FX work was stunning as you see the monsters running across land during the daytime, fully lit, which is not an easy task. Sure there were moments where you could tell it was a CG creation, but overall it was very well done.
In the end the film is phenomenal for a Korean horror movie, especially a creature feature. Sure I was a little bored in the middle, but the movie opens and ends with one hell of a bang. I don’t feel that it lived up to the hype, but it’s still one of those movies that you’d love to see in a theater with a bunch of people who “get it”- we’re very fortunate that Magnolia will be releasing the film in theaters this coming March and I look forward to seeing it again. I think if you lower your expectations juts a notch you’re in for one hell of a treat.