“The Host” – A.J. Hakari

Giving Tokyo a break from chronic Godzilla attacks, The Host lets South Korea have a turn at enduring some good ol’ monster movie carnage. But comparisons between the big G and this new cult upstart don’t end there. Both contain a certain American element, both pack in ambitious egological undertones, and, most unfortunately, both share a knack for not living up to their respective reputations.

It’s an ordinary day on the banks of Seoul’s Han River. Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon) and his slacker son Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) run the family food stand. Younger daughter Nam-joo (Du-na Bae) is busy competing in an archery tournament, while other son Nam-il (Hae-il Park) drowns his sorrows in a bottle or two of booze. But the Han’s peaceful serenity is instantly shattered the moment a horrifying, colossal beast emerges from the river and goes on a bloody feeding frenzy — snatching Gang-du’s daughter Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko) and taking her with it into the deep. The girl is thought for dead, until a late-night phone call indicates that Hyun-seo is alive and well within the monster’s lair. Despite the government enforcing a quarantine, claiming that a virus originating from the monster is running rampant, the whole clan escapes their captors and sets out on a quest to track down Hyun-seo’s whereabouts before she becomes the hideous beast’s next snack.

It’s easy to see why critics and horror fans alike went ga-ga over The Host. As opposed to something that left the gore faucet running without bothering to check on it, The Host actually has something resembling a brain and comes prepared with a few things on its mind — it’s just the execution that’s such a letdown. Director/co-writer Joon-ho Bong has no shortage of criticisms to dish out here, taking a cue from the original Gojira by setting up the creature’s creation be due to that classic mainstay, military meddling. Bong does a fine job of carrying the story to start, from the monster’s origins as the result of a careless doctor’s decision to the flames left from the beastie’s first attack being stoked by government-bred paranoia. The political angle is played just right, showing that the filmmakers didn’t simply borrow its premise from some random Godzilla flick and substituted a computer-generated creation for a guy in a rubber suit. Speaking of which, although the CG work used to bring it to life is iffy at times, the monster is one fearsome sight to behold, especially during its rampage at the beginning of the film.

But once the story morphs into a rescue mission, The Host runs out of steam pretty quickly, settling into a repetitive grind and seemingly lost in its search for a genre to call its own. It’s not quite Jaws, and it’s not quite Tremors, more like a hybrid of the two that falls just short of becoming as awesome as that idea sounds. There’s some comedy sprinkled throughout the story, but it’s used so sparsely and in such throwaway instances (read: quite a few people slipping and falling), you wonder why the filmmakers even made the effort. The family drama takes up the bulk of the story, yet Bong drags the events out way too long, turning what should have been a lean, mean, monster-filled machine into an increasingly dreary quest. Bong’s ambitions and confidence in the audience’s emotional investment in the characters outweigh his ability to actually keep up the act, especially when a third-act twist comes across as a whopping slap in the face. Plus, I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that the “government makes things worse” approach worked out a lot better for 28 Weeks Later.

Right now, though, I’m willing to bet you’re eager to get to the bottom line: is The Host scary? Very slow plot mechanics aside, it’s not without its freaky moments, and on the whole, by no means is it a bad film. But when such scenes make up a fraction of a two-hour movie, that’s like taking a cross-country flight just to see that one episode of “The King of Queens” you really, really like.

 

Rating: ★★½☆

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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