“Let’s try to be broad-minded about this.“
Filmed over a decade ago, the 2006 South Korean horror monster movie The Host is an excellent film. Critically acclaimed, the film won several awards for its bevy of actors (Byun Hee-bon – Best Supporting Actor at the 2006 Asia Pacific Film Fest), director (Bong Joon-ho at the 2007 Grand Bell Awards and who would go on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2019) multiple Best Film wins (too many to list) and for many other categories at many other venues. The film was highly anticipated thanks to the director’s prior work, Memories of Murder and The Host did not disappoint.
A new and refreshing take on the monster film, The Host tells the tale of a Korean family who owns a small snack bar when their life gets turned upside down by a marauding fish creature that comes out of the Han river, just behind their shop. Byun Hee-bon who plays Gang-du, a dim-witted father, tries to flee the monster with his daughter in-tow only to watch in horror as she is dragged into the river by the creature. The rest of the film follows the family, including his sister, brother and father as they try to rescue Hyun-seo.
Layered with political implications, class-analysis, family dynamics and a beautifully rendered monster, The Host is a powerful movie let alone a horror movie. By the end of its run, the film became the highest-grossing South Korean film of all time and deservedly so.
For a horror film, its one of those rare movies that deliver a gamut of #feels – funny, horrific, scary, introspective, action-packed and emotional. On a personal note, I always enjoy seeing non-American (and Western in general) horror films like The Host, not just for their approach to horror, but their approach to humanity in general.
For one thing, the men in The Host cry, openly. And without shame. They also express genuine affection for each other and for the women in their lives. The men in these movies aren’t the stereotypical ‘strong silent type’ nor do they shy away from their trauma. Likewise the film places the family unit as the narrative centerpiece through which we engage with the monster, something that is usually handled in sporadic fits if at all, by more American-leaning films. Typically you have a rag-tag collection of ne’er do-wells or a family in a fractured and uneasy state that must get through a difficult ‘monster’ situation together. There are shades of this dysfunction in The Host, but the depths of the characters make this dysfunction heart-felt and understood and are handled with much more empathy and sympathy, both from each other and from the audience viewpoint – its a genuine statement of ‘love’ when a grown man can refer to their son’s flatulence with compassion.
Apart from the humans, the monster itself is a truly unique and bizarre creation that elevates the film even more. Animalistic but with obvious intelligence, its opening scene, cloyingly hanging to a bridge, showcases the superb effects of the gwoemul that last through the end of the film. Though sparse on kill scenes, the suspense and thrilling tension of the movie more than make up for its lack of gore.
Overall, The Host delivers in every way a horror film can and in many ways embodies what I would call a ‘beautiful horror’ movie. But enough praise – on to the beast!
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Like music? Me too – what better way to celebrate the fishy design of The Host than The Monster’s Lair music from the soundtrack itself?