When was the last time you saw a good creature movie? One that stayed with you because it was actually good. The secret in creating an effective creature film lies in letting the monster do its dirty deeds against a meaningful backdrop. The monster’s sheer presence should amplify the uneasy feelings of the audience when we look at its surroundings. “Jaws” had indifferent community leaders and paranoid citizens, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” had the French Revolution and “The Host” has a misdirected nation.
This movie opens in South Korea with an American doctor ordering a Korean assistant to dump toxic chemicals down the drain, which leads to the Han River. Five years later we meet Park Gang-Du, a slow-witted but well-intentioned father who is on the banks of the Han when a mutated monster emerges from the water, wreaking havoc on the bystanders. After snacking on a few citizens, it returns to the river, but not before snatching Gang-Du’s daughter, Hyun-seo. What follows is Gang-Du and his family’s struggle to rescue his daughter.
The scenes with the creature (which are seen early and often) are gorgeously filmed, and the special effects are incredible. The beast itself is about as realistic as a mutated water monster can be, especially given that the monster interacts with heavily populated environments. The final scene is especially well-choreographed and will satisfy any monster movie fan.
However, the family is the centerpiece of the film. While the dynamics between Gang-Du’s siblings and father are dissected, it is Gang-Du’s unrelenting drive to get back his daughter that propels the film and gives it heart. Without the father and daughter, there is no reason to root for anyone except the monster.
The film is obviously very personal to Korea as it focuses primarily on the direction the country is headed. But it also presents difficult questions about Korea’s relationship with America. And while this is important, sometimes the film becomes too preachy and gets in the way of its own progress.
Even with this slow pace that favors relationships over mayhem, there are just enough monster scenes to pacify those just looking for entertainment. Someone watching for the meaning behind the film will be rewarded and given ample food for thought, and thus will get the most out of “The Host.”
For the rest, sit back and enjoy the thrills.
“The Host” opens March 9th in select cities.
Gabe Habash may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.