Rated R for pretty upsetting monster horror. There's a lot of gore and vomit. It's got some language. There's some medical horror stuff too. Also, if you have a trigger for kids getting hurt and dying, which you probably should, this movie deals with all of that. It's a pretty upsetting R rated horror movie.
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon Ho
I keep starting this one and then losing my project. It's not like I get far anytime. If anything, this is the farthest I've gotten. It's just been one of those days. At least I have the pleasure of writing about a movie that kind of shaped my view of Korean cinema.
This is another one of those movies that was so good when I bought it that I was afraid to return to it. Part of it came from the understanding that my wife has to be in a very specific mood to enjoy a horror movie. The other reason was that, if I fall in love with a movie hard on the first viewing, I'm always kinda / sorta afraid to visit it again. This was one of those movies. The Host kind of sets up the tone for what would be the rest of Director Bong's films over the next few years, including but not limited to Parasite. Rather than simply make a monster movie, or a movie in the kaiju subgenre, Director Bong does something very smart and should be the basis for every horror movie. He makes it about the people rather than the monster.
Horror movies tend to be more fun than actually meaty because we can't wait to see how the bad guy is going to rip apart the cast of good guys. I know that "good guy" seems to be too much of a blanket term, but the joy of scary movies is knowing that something terrible is going to happen to a group of individuals who don't really pose a threat to the bad guy. That feeling of suspense is what makes these movies so watchable. But The Host kind of messes with that format. Instead of solely focusing on how cool the monster looks (which, by the way, the monster does look pretty cool), The Host fully fleshes out every character. The family is closely knit and completely screwed up. The bulk of the movie involves this back-and-forth of the family bickering and fighting, which gives this uncomfortable film a morbid sense of humor. There are stretches where the monster isn't in the film and these scenes completely hold up. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the confrontation scenes with the creature, I cared more for the dynamic between the family members. They all have their faults, yet that only makes them more endearing throughout the film. While Gang-do is definitely the protagonist, all of the characters are dynamic. The father gains his courage, a 'la the Cowardly Lion. Nam-il, while probably still an alcoholic, becomes way less of a jerk and becomes way more pro-active. Nam-joo learns confidence. So when these characters are in danger, it becomes something very personal. We fall in love with all of these characters in the midst of deep personal change and they become more than corpses. When I blogged about Don't Breathe, all I could do was sort of relate to the protagonist. But even her troubles seemed artificial. Everything in The Host seems far more grounded.
It's real weird that Hyun-Seo dies. Again, everything in these blogs are spoilers, so put that out there. But the entire movie is about the hunt for Hyun-Seo. Gang-do's very value lies in saving her and he still loses her. Yeah, Gang-do is kind of a burnout at the beginning of the movie. He's this character that's on the fence of being a good or a bad character. Many of his vices tie into the concept that he's kind of incompetent rather than actively choosing anything bad. (The father's soliloquy justifies a lot of his inadequacies). Gang-do has asperations to be a good father when he should just do it. It is odd that he is punished with Hyun-Seo's death. It's almost a condemnation of his parentage. Yeah, he's not a great dad. But he's also not an actively evil dad. Trust me, I'm totally on board with what Director Bong is throwing down here. But Gang-do makes an active choice to fight for Hyun-Seo. If anything, he's way more successful with his attempts to save her than he has any right to be. But he still loses her.
But that's why he has the second chance kid. It's a weird way to refer to a human being, especially one that would garner a lot of media attention in the wake of such a massive news event. I don't know how he got custody of that kid or was even allowed his freedom, considering that he was the center of a massive conspiracy to study human exposure to monsters. (Was the American government convinced that there was a virus or were they aware that there wasn't a virus? That doctor at the end kind of confused me by pointing at Gang-do's frontal cortex or whatever.) It's an implication that people don't have be great to be good parents. The first message is that Gang-do kind of just accepts his ineptitude because that's what he's been programmed to do. But Gang-do seems to be a good dad at the end, despite being in the same economic situation that he was in at the beginning of the story. Perhaps he realized that he was a small guy that could move mountains. I'm still always a little flabbergasted when Gang-do gets away from the scientists during his last stint in captivity. Like, it's darned impressive. Sure, it probably points to the incompetence of the military in that situation. But it is thrilling. Because he escaped so many times, he probably gained this sense of confidence or something. All of this comes together in a finale that allows everyone's weaknesses to be their greatest strengths.
As many people in my life can attest, I've turned into a dirty hippie. I don't mind. I kind of like it. But Bong Joon Ho really hits hard on the environmentalist stuff. When I said that The Host was the blueprint for both for the rest of his works, I wasn't just talking about Parasite. There's a lot in common with Okja. I didn't love Okja, but the message is a powerful one. The Host really starts the film with the condemnation of big corporations against the environment. Implying that the spilling of chemicals down a sink leads to the creation of this monster is pretty blunt. But the side effect of making this an environmental issue is the loosey-goosey idea that it makes the monster sympathetic. It's weird, because the monster isn't a nice monster. This isn't Harry and the Hendersons. No, the monster straight up eats folks by the dozen and vomits up their bones. I don't know if Director Bong was all about its relationship with children, but why did they survive the first round when no one else did? I mean, we already discussed Hyun-Seo's death, so we know it isn't a lethal protector or anything. But maybe there's some kind of parallel between the monster and children. Maybe the monster is a child and feels kinship with them. But he does eventually wreck them pretty hard, so I don't know how much that theory is going to hold up. Still, environmentalism, right?
The Host holds up hard. Maybe it even holds up even better since Parasite won Best Picture. But this movie is a wonderful mix of funny, scary, and deep. I adore it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.