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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 32.14%
Average: 5.36%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 7.14%

6 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Host, The (2007)
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by EricDSnider

"Boy, the fish are really biting today!"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "The Host" is a monster movie, but there's a clear indication early on that it's going to be more than that: We get a complete view of the monster within the first 15 minutes as it gallops along a river front, eating people.

If you know anything about monster movies, you know the good ones generally avoid showing the creature in full view until later in the film. It's much scarier to give hints and glimpses at first, and save the big reveal for closer to the end. "Jaws" is one of the prime examples of doing this effectively; compare it with the later, inept chapters in the "Friday the 13th" series, where Jason is practically the main character and thus loses most of his scariness.

"The Host" is not inept, though, and its seemingly premature reveal of the monster is intentional. It signals our subconscious to be on the lookout for other elements. As terrifying as the creature is at first, we won't be quite as alarmed by it later on, and that means the movie must have other surprises in store for us.

And my, does it! I hesitate to use the word "rollicking" for any reason, especially in the context of a horror film, but that's what "The Host" is: rollicking, thrilling, scary, funny, and satirical. It juggles multiple characters in an ensemble cast and expertly shifts gears to take us from laughing to cringing and back again, always at just the right time.

At the center is the Park family, owners of a snack shop on the river front, a popular spot for sunbathers and picnickers. The patriarch, Hi-bong (Hie-bong Byeon), does most of the work while his lazy grown-up son Gang-du (Kang-ho Song) naps and watches TV. Gang-du's brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park) is a drunk, and their sister, Nam-joo (Du-na Bae) is a champion archer who suffers from chronic hesitance. Think "The Royal Tenenbaums" mixed with "Arrested Development" for the family dynamics.

The apple of everyone's eye is Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko), Gang-du's sweet young teenage daughter. It is she who winds up swept away by the monster during its attack on the river front park, gone and presumed dead.

Ah yes, the monster. Seems the U.S. army leaked some toxic chemicals into the Han River a few years back, and now a gigantic amphibious fish-like beast with legs and a prehensile tail lives beneath the surface. Something makes it come ashore and wreak havoc on the city in a sequence that rivals Spielberg's best terror scenes (in "Jurassic Park" and "War of the Worlds," particularly) for style, audacity, and sheer thrills.

Popular Korean director Joon-ho Bong is responsible for this confectionery, with a jam-packed screenplay he wrote with Chul-hyun Baek and Jun-won Ha. He works multiple angles, too, first with the dysfunctional Park family called upon to join forces, quit hating each other, and rescue Hyun-seo from the monster; and second with Hyun-seo and a little boy she finds as they attempt to escape the monster's lair.

Then there's a third layer: sharp political satire. Bong cleverly mocks the botched, panicky response that governments often give to natural disasters, and the cover-ups that follow. The government insists the monster is spreading a virus and quarantines everyone who had contact with it, resulting in some amusing SARS-like paranoia and mask-wearing. Then, to kill the creature, the military decides on a tactic that will kill a lot of people, too -- a cure that's worse than the disease.

Rather brilliantly, Bong combines all of these elements in a way that allows the viewer to enjoy the movie on several levels. The political satire is genial enough to go down smoothly regardless of one's affiliation, or it can be ignored altogether in favor of the well-staged scary-movie scenes of panic and terror, which are never gruesome or awful, but just fun. In fact, that's the movie all over: just plain fun.

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originally posted: 03/08/07 19:43:53
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2006 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Portland Film Festival For more in the 2007 Portland Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2007 Florida Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell good creature feature 4 stars
9/24/10 Flathead King The humour in the film does not work. 2 stars
9/06/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Somewhat uneven, but very intriguing monster movie/satire 4 stars
11/01/09 Samantha The dubbing killed it, I laughed while they all screamed in pain or cried. Pitiful. 1 stars
5/13/08 damalc O-VER-RAT-ED clap, clap, clap-clap 3 stars
10/21/07 Brian Mckay Both funny and creepy, monster is well-done, likeable characters but story not the best. 4 stars
9/29/07 Bitchflaps Allegory? Whatever! This is first-rate good old trashy entertainment. 4 stars
8/28/07 Shelly The only reason I didnt throw it in the trash was because it didnt belong to sucked 1 stars
8/27/07 THE MOVIE MAN very few movies are being made today with this films entertainment value and human message. 5 stars
8/03/07 action movie fan good f/x but the story needed more 3 stars
7/28/07 m. p. g. Did we all see the same film? Was it a comedy or just a horrible movie? 1 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Terrific effects and equally solid performances keep this monster movie afloat. 4 stars
6/14/07 Vincent Ebriega You'll find yourself screming at B monster movies again. 4.5/5 5 stars
5/03/07 The Codfish Funny? In spots. But a sobering re-evaluation of science and society. 5 stars
4/16/07 Peter ReelHound In the midst of an unwanted Iraq War "The Host" was one of the few bright spots this year! 5 stars
4/05/07 Anthony The first act is fantastic, but from there it develops into a confused, overlong mess. 2 stars
3/25/07 Mr X Overlong and anticlimactic. Proof that not all foreign films are good. 1 stars
3/16/07 dmitry A great movie, a throwback to when this genre was used as allegory 5 stars
3/15/07 Ole Man Bourbon Started strong, but really lost steam. 3 stars
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  09-Mar-2007 (R)
  DVD: 24-Jul-2007

  10-Nov-2006 (15)
  DVD: 05-Mar-2007

  08-Mar-2007 (M)

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