So a couple of scientists dump a few hundred bottles of toxic waste into a river, what could possibly happen? According to the South Korean horror The Host, a giant man-eating, plague-spreading, amphibious monster is what happens. The Host is one of those great films where its premise does not do it justice; like Godzilla, the rampaging monster is catalyst for social commentary of the past and present. However, while Godzilla was an intense Cold War allegory, The Host is an eccentric satire about SARS and a... certain western government. Charged with by political anger, dark humor, and despair The Host can feel off-key and incendiary but these elements make for a surprisingly human and fun film.
The plot of The Host revolves around a narcoleptic oaf and his dysfunctional family as he tries to rescue his daughter from the monster; meanwhile, having to dodge the U.S. and Korean Security, who claim he is infected. Imagine the film as National Lampoon’s Toxic Mutant Vacation and it makes more sense. The leads are basically archetypes but what makes the film really fun is how director Bong Joon-ho plays with the characters emotions through his compositions. It is the one of a few films that has the stones to play up a moment of grief for laughs by simply lingering on the moment for far too long. It works because these moments seem like normal reactions of the chaotic setting presented to the audience. When faced with a sudden disaster, people become unhinged, confused and scared, which the film reflects impeccably.
There is some controversy about the film being implicitly “Anti-American,” this is a narrow assumption. The film does joke about U.S. for not caring about the environment and being for nosy in global affairs; granted, the Korean government’s methods for disease control are not portrayed kindly either. In context of the film though, these forces are just a small but loud part of the struggle of the main characters. The goal of The Host is to show how a family can unite and survive in an unusual yet familiar disaster and this SARS/FEMA style of sloppy government finger pointing makes this film perfectly contemporary.
The Host is a fun monster film that hides its brightest ideas with humor and madness. The characters are peculiar and surprisingly rounded due to the use of cleverly choreographed actions as opposed to unsubtle exposition. The moments about government are harsh but whether they are important or not depends on the viewer. In a way, The Host is almost a complete contrast to the old Godzilla. Whilst Godzilla is bleak and blatant with its themes, The Host is a very goofy film made with self-assurance. The Host is a great party film and its themes grow and mature through repeat viewings. An absolute must see, Halloween or not.