If there is one thing everybody loves, it’s a great monster film. And if there is one sort of person I can’t stand, it’s someone who doesn’t love great monster films.
But if you aren’t someone who watches movies all day every day, like me, you may be operating under the misconception that America has the market cornered on spectacular creature features. As it turns out, the firmament of world cinema is littered with shining monsters of all shapes and sizes. Thanks to Netflix’s Watch Instantly service, you can expose yourself to nearly the entire international gamut of monster movies. We hope you’ll consider one such foreign monster movie: Korea’s The Host from 2006.
Who Made It: The Host was directed Bong Joon-ho. Along with this fantastic creature feature, Bong Joon-ho also gave us a deeply moving serial killer thriller in 2003’s Memories of Murder. He is also apparently directing a sequel to The Host, which is currently in some phase of production.
Who’s In It: I won’t delve into the entire cast, mostly because I would be in danger of multiple, multiple spelling errors with their names. But I do want to mention the star of the film Kang-ho Song. This guy’s resume reads like a Must See List of some of the best Korean cinema has had to offer over the last decade. He’s been featured in Park Chan-wook’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst as well as Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder and Jee-woon Kim’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird. All films exceedingly worthy of your time.
What’s It About: A batch of long-expired formaldehyde dumped into Seoul’s water supply gives birth to a mutated amphibious create that wreaks havoc upon those living alongside the Han River. When the creature abducts a young girl, her family, (who at first believed her to be dead) sets out on a dangerous mission to bring her home.
Why You Should Watch It:
The Host is an exemplary monster movie on a number of levels, not the least of which being the design of the monster itself. The decision to make it amphibian as opposed to a simply water-dwelling beast immediately ratchets up the terror. It’s one thing to create a reason not to go in the water, but it’s an entirely new ball game when you are no longer safe on dry land. What we end up with is something sort of like a giant salamander/fish hybrid with more appendages than we can count and a prehensile tail, and yet it moves like a great cat when on land. Its eyes are nearly impossible to identify, something that always creates a sense of dread, and its mouth seems to harbor endless compartments of sharp teeth. Basically, not at all something you would want to see tooling around your neighborhood.
The catalytic scene, in which the presence of the beast is revealed, is one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in all of horrordom. Spectators gather to observe a mysterious pod hanging from under a bridge. The pod them drops into the water and what follows is a symphony of carnage and death. The way Bong Joon-ho shoots the sequence, largely from our hero’s point of view as he flees for his life, creates some stunning imagery that serves the dual purpose of creating tension and withholding enough direct exposure to not allow the computer-generated graphics to be so overt. This sequence powerfully asserts the film’s tone and serves as an appetizer for its boldness—even innocent people are torn to shreds.
Despite all the terror, the violent thrashing of claws and gnashing of teeth, The Host’s true power is in its undeniable amount of heart. The pain and anguish of the family of the stolen girl is deeply affecting and yields to a measured amount of bittersweet comedy as they struggle valiantly against their own monster-hunting ineptitude to reclaim her. The relationship between that little girl and an even younger boy she meets in the monster’s lair not only makes for some edge-of-your-seat plot devices, but also furthers the tear-jerking sense of sentimentality and the film’s overall message of love’s ability to conquer all.