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The Host (Gwoemul) Review

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A quiet afternoon by the Han river in Seoul is shattered when a giant newt-thing rampages through a popular picnic spot. In the devastated aftermath, a family struggles to cope with the loss of one of their own, and begins a search for the deadly creature.

★★★★

Having smashed box-office records in Korea and flummoxed Cannes, Bong Joon-Ho’s comedy-horror arrives on these shores with... well, no mainstream anticipation whatsoever. Let’s correct that right now. Had your fill of Snakes On A Plane? Get your chops around Giant Mutant Tadpole Monsters In A Major Populated Area.

If Snakes suggests that Hollywood’s so jaded with the genre movie that all it can do is laugh at itself, Host shows that others are finding fresh angles. For those who caught director Bong’s previous thriller, this shouldn���t come as a surprise. In Memories Of Murder, he recreated the investigation into Korea’s first serial killer. The facts of the case are devastating. So is the movie — half the time. The other half you spend laughing your arse off. He’s up to similar feats of genre-bending here. Prepare to be discomBongulated...

Let’s make this clear: The Host is a big, stupid monster movie, loud and proud. People get eaten, rampages happen, newscasts crackle and scientists turn up in squeaky radiation suits. What you also get — not as a bonus, but as the absolute dramatic core — is a quirky-but-ballsy ensemble comedy.

Never mind the lumpy, formaldehyde-ravaged beastoid — the movie’s a fruity mutation itself. You know you’re going to be on your toes when the monster rolls up five minutes in with barely a shrug of preamble. So much for coy glimpses and a third-act reveal — you get the full wallop before you’ve even touched your popcorn. Often the mass hysteria that accompanies such scenes are as phoney as the bloke in the rubber suit, but here it feels ground-level and disturbingly real. The monster’s not swatting at aeroplanes. It’s knocking over umbrella stands, prowling car parks, eating children. It’s a fabulously disorientating opener.

From then on, The Host is a masterclass in misdirection. Scenes that begin with grief-stricken intensity end in a flurry of windmilling slapstick; an even bigger threat than the monster suddenly thuds into view; initially playful twists brutalise the genre into being scary again. Most notable of all, the standard heroes have been defumed and deregulated. They’re not the familiar cops or labcoats; they’re working-class plebs so used to getting trampled by the state that a two-ton monstoid doesn’t make much of a difference. You can’t help but root for Song Kang-ho's dumb slob — or the rest of his clan of downtrodden proles — as they take on the system, the military and the giant slobbering threat to their lives. It’s as if Ken Loach remade Godzilla.

The beast itself may be a cross between a catfish, a frog, a bison, a monkey and a tube of snot, but Kevin “Star Wars” Rafferty has created a true original, with weight and menace and a weird kind of grace. Most CG creations seem to slide on ice when they walk. This lollops. It’s alive with nasty motives — and even nastier habits that add to its gooey, primal attraction.

The Host is an acquired taste – it suffers from a choppy mid-section that follows one character path too many. But, in the words of Spinal Tap’s rock druid Nigel Tufnel, that’s just nitpicking, isn’t it? Catch it before the inevitable remake.

You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll jump, you’ll ask Hollywood for your money back. Seek it out.