For the past few weeks, I’ve been hearing about The Host. I’ve been deliberately avoiding details about it, to keep from spoiling any potential surprises, so all I could ascertain was that it’s a South Korean movie about a giant river monster attacking a family.
So maybe my expectations were too high. The first twenty or thirty minutes are most definitely excellent. I’m not spoiling anything by saying there’s a monster attack at the beginning, and it’s just great movie-making. The CG effects are good but not exceptional; what’s exceptional is the way they’re used — pacing, staging, dialogue, everything is just dead-on, and you’re never given a chance to believe that what you’re seeing isn’t real.
After the attack, it goes into horror/comedy mode, with the family interactions and incompetent government officials and some of the best “black slapstick” I’ve seen since Cape Fear.
And then… it starts wandering. You’ll frequently see reviews that say it isn’t a traditional monster horror movie, and while that’s correct, it implies a genre mash-up that just isn’t there. The movie doesn’t dip into the big bag o’ cliches; the plot keeps going off on tangents you don’t quite expect. But you quickly discover that there’s a distinction between “surprising” and just “unexpected.” Stuff keeps happening, but it’s not the oh my God he’s been dead all along! level of surprise as much as well, would you look at that, he ordered corned beef instead of ham and cheese.
There’s a consistent theme throughout most of the movie, that of the struggle between an unsympathetic, monolithic, and incompetent government against a barely sympathetic, incompetent, but heartwarming family. But although it’s a recurring theme, it never breaks through into full-fledged satire. It just remains an idea — the value of the individual versus that of society. A nice enough theme, but nothing groundbreaking, and there’s not much new added.
So in the end, it’s a reasonably well-made slice-of-life movie of the type that’s kept Sundance festivals going for decades. But with an amazing opening sequence that hints at so much more potential than the rest of the movie can deliver. It should definitely get points for being neither a stock, by-the-numbers horror movie; or a bland and predictable indie comedy/drama. But I just didn’t think it was cohesive or powerful enough to hold my interest.