I tend not to watch many kaiju movies as I personally don’t find large monsters all that interesting. While I enjoy some of the early Godzilla films, I usually avoid watching any other flicks about large monsters, simply due to lack of interest. In all honesty, I didn’t initially care to watch The Host (2006) from it’s plot alone, but when I found out Song Kang-Ho played the main role I decided to check it out, as I’m yet to be let down by any of his performances.
This film centres around a dysfunctional family who find themselves caught in the midsts of an attack from a giant monster, of which has appeared from the river they live by. Much to their misfortune, the youngest member of the family -Hyun-seo (played by Go Ah-sung)- has been abducted by the monster leaving them to presume her dead. As the media spread news that anyone in physical contact with the creature is carrying a virus, the family find themselves to be kept in a hospital by doctors who pay no interest to any patients; while here, Hyun-seo’s father, Gang-doo (Song Kang-ho), receives a brief call from his daughter asking him to find her, detailing that she’s in a sewer somewhere. From here, the family run from the law in the hopes of trying to find her.
This film is a lot better than I expected it to be, in all honesty. While most monster movies focus on the action and aim to get as many thrills from the audience, this one focusses on the emotion and desperation the family holds, with a few intense scenes that compliment the tone of the film. From the moment the family loses Hyun-seo, the audience really feel for the family in the scenes that follow, as we watch her father sink lower as his family blames him for her being taken, and collectively they are each run-down from conspicuously searching through each of the main sewer openings in Seoul that are close to the Han river. Even in some scenes where it’s comedic in the way the family fails, it’s used as black comedy to add to the overall misfortune that follows them.
I think the brief comedic moments add to the plot well, not only for the audience to feel more sorry for them, but also to lighten the tone just enough for it to not be a depressing movie. Yes, it follows a sad story, with unfortunate people, stuck in a serious plot, but the small moments that make you laugh allow you to;
a.) recognise that, through the adversity, there can still be small joys in hard times;
b.) to come away from it not feeling too down or overwhelmed;
c.) to give the family more realism that the audience can connect with.
I think the last point is one that is too often overlooked in the horror genre – especially in movies from the West. There are many flaws that often come with horror movies, and increasingly so in modern flicks, but one of the most common ones is making the audience watch characters that are idiotic for all the wrong reasons. Lots of horror films make their characters mostly blank slates, so the audience can project themselves onto the characters (similarly to how Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012) is a blank slate for audience members to project themselves onto, so they can imagine themselves as her), and also because the writers can then be lazy and focus on the action that comes to the characters; however, in The Host the characters are shown with emotions throughout the feature, and are given realistic flaws. This is something I think is very important for the genre, as it allows the audience to connect more with the people they’re watching – giving them a chance to laugh at how they could imagine themselves making a mistake like that – or even someone that they know.
With everything I just said, you may think this film is a horror comedy, which it isn’t. I simply found this worth talking about, as I was surprised that there were moments that made me laugh in something that isn’t a comedy, but still easily kept the atmosphere from start to finish. I think this feature is generally one that a lot of movie-makers should take note from, as it proves that you can make a modern horror (and one that has giant monsters, too!) that allows the audience to feel a range of emotions and feel genuinely pulled into the world they’re witnessing, rather than simply aiming for lots of cheap scares.
My main disappointment with this film was the use of CGI on the monster itself. I understand that it would have been costly and difficult to create the monster practically, and have it keep up with the fast pace that it leads in some scenes, but it’s things like this that I find really takes you out of the scene and reminds you that you’re watching something that you’re not part of.
If you appreciate well planned (and well acted) characters in horrors, or are a fan of kaiju flicks, or are even looking for something a little different to watch, then definitely check this film out – it won’t waste your time.