Restless reptile

The Host

No one told me soccer practice would be this tough.

No one told me soccer practice would be this tough.

Rated 4.0

Hey Reno, a very cool horror movie is making its way to town, and you must see it before it leaves. If you’ve been perusing movie Web sites, you probably know about The Host, a box-office bonanza in South Korea coming to our shores. This is not your standard monster movie, and I must admit that it caught me off guard. It’s the first really cool giant reptile—well, mutant reptile—film in many a year.

A dad (Kang-ho Song) sits with his little girl watching a family member compete in an archery competition on television. He leaves his home briefly to serve food on a beach—a beach lined with people curious about something hanging off a bridge. That something is huge, green and impossible to identify. It jumps into the water, and everybody goes back to his or her business. Then, the ruthless bastard comes ashore.

What follows is a chase sequence for the ages, setting the stage for a sick-in-the-head monster flick made by filmmakers shooting for quality with their horror. It looks great, the acting is superb, and it also manages some good laughs. The moments of slapstick in the film are perfectly modulated and come as great relief after seeing various humans enter the monster’s digestive system.

The Host has a retro-Godzilla premise. This time, rather than being the result of atomic energy, the monster is born from an American scientist ordering the dumping of chemicals into the Han River. The beast itself looks like a mixture of tadpole parts, Predator, and my former pet iguana that used to fuck my shit up with his tail when I tried to hold him. It’s a CGI creation, and I loved the way it blended into live action, especially in broad daylight.

Director Bong Joon-ho isn’t content to come up with a creepy creature and go for the standard scares. In fact, much of the fright in his film doesn’t come from sudden-jolt horror tricks. The scariest parts of this movie occur when the monster is seen a mile away, bounding toward its prey. I especially liked the way the monster used its tail to swing from one end of a large bridge to another.

The soundtrack is nuts, a mixture of strings and brass by Byung-woo Lee that is completely unexpected. If somebody played this music for me then told me to picture a mutant tadpole/lizard thing bounding about eating people, I’d be confused. Yet, somehow, the music blends perfectly with the action.

Without giving too much away, the film also owes a bit to James Cameron’s Aliens because kids wind up having to hide and survive from the monster. I remember the late Gene Siskel knocking Aliens for showing a child in peril. This film would’ve really pissed Siskel off.

Much of the film focuses on a family trying to rescue a family member, and this works toward creating characters who are sympathetic and fleshed out. There are actually a few good jabs at the United States in the film—from the American scientist with no regard for the environment to the American doctor using hospital patients as guinea pigs. The Korean government takes some hits too, so the film is an equal opportunity offender.

Last year gave us The Descent, and now we have The Host. It’s nice to see that some directors don’t need to follow the formula and collect their check when it comes to horror films. Internet buzz states that Universal Studios is, of course, planning an American remake of the film. Considering how the original ends, it will be interesting to see if any American director has the balls to be faithful to the finale.