South Korea 2006
Director: Joon-ho Bong
Most monster movies have a lot of suspenseful buildup leading up to the first appearance of the creature, forcing you to sit through often tedious plot exposition and character development while waiting for the scares. Even when the monster does finally appear, it’s usually partially concealed or obscured, leading to even more anticipation. This technique often backfires, with the buildup to the creature letting down the creature itself. Not so in The Host: rather than beginning with character and plot development, this film drops the monster right into the action within the first five minutes and develops the story afterwards.
This substantial and innovative alteration changes the whole tone of the film, creating chaos and uncertainty in both the characters and audience. Since we don’t know any of the characters when the dying begins, we have no idea who will survive. Rather than losing dramatic effect, due to not identifying with any characters, The Host gains much in tension and fright. As the film progresses, however, the characters are fully-realised and the film is revealed as a touching family drama disguised as an exciting monster movie.
The emotional investment in the characters stems from the excellent performances, with all the actors able to switch instantly from grim melodrama to comedic farce. In a lesser film, with lesser actors, this change in tone could’ve been disastrous, but The Host manages to straddle the line between comedy, drama, and horror. All the actors are good, but the standout has to be Ko Ah-sung as the little girl. She manages to avoid all the moppetish tendencies that you so often see in very young characters and delivers a strong, memorable performance.
The creature itself is quite memorable as well, with impressive special effects helping to create a living, breathing character rather than just a plot device. The director is never afraid to show the creature in broad daylight or in close-up, something which speaks to the high level of proficiency in its creation.
The Host is intelligent, poignant, exciting and frightening. Who knew that the story of a family in crisis could be so interesting?