Thoughts on The Host

There were two things I really enjoyed about my viewing of the Korean monster movie The Host on Saturday at the Landmark Sunshine on East Houston Street:

1) That magnificent shot toward the beginning of the film, just after the monster has leapt out of the river, where he slowly rampages his way from the background of the shot to the foreground as our oblivious protagonist stares off the left of the screen. This is a shot that’s been in my head for years and years as the coolest possible rampaging-monster shot possible, and seeing it was an absolute joy, even if it’s a publish-or-perish situation for yours truly.

2) Lou Reed was there too. He looked shorter and older and more fashionable and wealthier than I imagined him, but mostly it was cool that Lou likes to go to monster movies on a Saturday afternoon.

And that was about it.

The Host suffers from a vast, er, host of problems that interfere with its supposed effectiveness as a top-drawer monster movie. For starters, there’s the monster itself, which is goofy-looking and not scary at all to behold. The visual effects used to bring it to life are excellent, and held up well to director Joon-ho Bong’s decision to keep the thing well lit and in our face rather than hiding in the water or the shadows. But that doesn’t compensate for a design that’s silly rather than scary and calls for the creature to move in ways that make no physical sense given its size and primary method of movement. (Why would a giant river monster flip around bridges like a trapeze artist, anyway?)

Then there’s the fact that the film, to me at least, was quite frankly boring. Its profligate use of slow motion made even 300‘s look judicious, and nearly every shot and sequence involving the put-upon dysfunctional family at the film’s heart lasted twice as long as it needed to. Thematically the film was very similar to the parental trauma of last year’s Great Monster-Movie Hope, The Descent. Unlike Neil Marshall, Bong seemed to believe that showy bloat would better convey this than no-frills relentlessness, a mistake that sinks the film.

Interestingly, the tonal inconsistency didn’t bother me–to a point. One of my all-time favorite movie-watching experiences was viewing Arthur Penn’s all-over-the-map Little Big Man while cataclysmically stoned, so I’m open to radical shifts in mood and even genre within the confines of one film. (I am a big fan of Kill Bill, after all.) It helped that for the most part, the funny stuff here–Gang-du’s Kafka/Brazil-esque attempts to get someone, anyone to listen to him; that hilarious shot where he breaks out of that medical trailer and shocks a parking-lot full of American soldiers away from their barbeques–was actually pretty funny. But where it did bother me–indeed, where it pretty much lost me for the rest of the movie–was when it played the ostentatious grief of the family over the death (“death”) of their little girl for laughs. Killing a child, especially one with whom we’ve spent time and for whom grown to share an affinity, is extremely dangerous ground for any movie; this goes double for horror, a genre that essentially presupposes that the audience, on some level at least, enjoys watching people get killed, and therefore has its work cut out for it if it’s going to depict the killing of a child, the least enjoyable killing possible. At first I was impressed by just how raw and unfiltered that scene in the crisis center was getting with its sobbing, screaming, inconsolable, mind-shattering grief–so imagine my dismay and disgust as it devolved into slapstick. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the death of a little girl is funny. And unkilling her later in the film doesn’t get you off the hook–especially if you’re going to re-kill her during the climax and want that to be the emotional lynchpin of the film.

I’ve written about enough movies I don’t like to realize that I tend to give them the business for plot holes and logical flaws to which, were they to appear in a movie I did like, I wouldn’t give a second thought. There were plenty of them here–the fact that the monster was able to grow to enormous size without ever having appeared at the surface and devoured countless human beings before this particular day; the fact that the filmmakers couldn’t seem to decide what, if any, effects “Agent Yellow” actually had on anything other than the monster; Gang-du’s ability to recover from some sort of trepanation and escape from a heavily guarded military installation filled with armed soldiers who honestly believed him to be the carrier of a deadly contagion–but none of them, obviously, were deal-breakers in and of themselves. The bizarrely bad fire effects at during the climax might have been deal-breakers considering the pivotal moments they mar, but again, I could probably look the other way if the rest of the movie demanded it. But its distasteful mockery of grief, lugubrious pacing, and fundamentally unfrightening creature left me in less than a charitable mood. Indeed, if it weren’t for mainstream critics’ erroneous belief that adding some melodramatic pathos and unsubtle (though funny) political allegory to a genre picture makes it A Great Film, I very much doubt whether we’d even be talking about it. As it stands, I’ll remember it as kind of like a Jaws remake that replaced Robert Shaw with tedium.

I hope Lou liked it, though.

One Response to Thoughts on The Host

  1. Pingback: Girls thoughts: the return « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins

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