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“The Host” of great performances but few scares

“The Host” is one of the highest grossing South Korean films of all time, and whenever a film is classified as a “highest grossing film of all time,” there will always be a discussion of whether or not it is as great as everyone says it is. A quick examination of the first few minutes of the film could leave anyone, from the most unseasoned to the most cynical veteran film viewer, with the same opinion: “Yeah, it’s as great as everyone says it is.”

This film explores the discovery of a mutated creature living in Seoul’s Han River due to the thoughtless release of formaldehyde down a drain and thus, into the river. A few years after the chemicals are released, the monster comes out and attacks the populace.

Among those attacked are single father Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho), his father Park Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong), and Gang-du’s middle-school-aged daughter Park Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Hyun-seo is killed by the creature, and the rest of the Park family, including Gang-du’s sister Park Nam-joo (Bae Doona) and his unemployed but educated brother Park Nam-il (Park hae-il) meet up to mourn her. Immediately after being quarantined, the family finds that Hyun-seo is still alive, and they band together to escape, face the monster and save Hyun-seo.

“The Host” is a 2006 film directed by Bong Joon-ho, the same brain behind the recent and incredibly popular film, “Snowpiercer.” His direction and cinematography are the anchors that make “The Host” great instead of just good. He has such an eye for direction that certain frames seem like they could be hung on your wall.

However, even good direction can find itself adrift when it’s lost amid a sea of terrible acting. Luckily, this is not the case. All of the cast turns in excellent performances. In fact, they were all so good that there was no clear standout among them; rather, there were just a bunch of A-pluses all around.

“The Host” is a stringent observer of monster movie protocol. The negligent scientist pours dangerous chemicals into a river in a major metropolitan area, the government cracks down on innocent civilians while they fail to be able to effectively govern, ridiculously apathetic doctors operate on live civilians and, of course, citizens get eaten by the monster when they gather.

The film is a fun critique of U.S. military hegemony among other things, and it is an excellent movie, but not really a great monster movie. Why is that? Well the monster just wasn’t very scary. The special effects were good for a film from 2006, and even hold up in the modern day. The problem lies in the monster’s design and how it’s presented. It’s shown so early in the movie and so clearly seen so many times that it not only gets boring, but the fact that the monster is just a larger than average chameleon with a weird mouth becomes even more apparent, no matter how many people it kills.

In other words, if you want a good monster movie then you might be better off finding something else, but if you want good characters with a monster as a backdrop for a good story, then this is for you.