The Host

The HostMonster movies are generally a critically maligned genre. But that’s because monster movies generally have all the cinematic quality of a two-week-old lamb kebab. On the other hand, Korean cinema is the hottest thing around the festival circuit. So, what do you get when you synergise it up with a Korean monster flick? You get The Host, which is about as fine a monster film as you will see this decade.

The setting is Seoul or, more specifically, the Han River. The monster itself is a kind of giant mutated axolotl with a gift for gymnastics, a multi-faceted jaw that would make a dentist cream their pants and a capricious disposition. The hero, of sorts, is a blonde-tipped slob named Gang-du, who somehow managed to father a daughter about a dozen years ago but now finds it difficult just to stay awake. When Gang-du’s daughter is taken by the monster, the whole family—father, uncle, aunt and grandfather—pitch in to rescue her.

For those in the mood for a splatter-fest, The Host won’t deliver—the horror is largely in the humanity around the monster, not in blood and guts. Nevertheless, the monster itself is a work of organically goopy delight and has enough of an appetite for flesh to justify the two-hour running time.

Like Breath, another Korean film that screened at this year’s Melbourne Film Festival, The Host glides from pathos to humour in the blink of an eye. Indeed, it is its perfect balance of audacious satire and heartfelt honesty that lifts the film out of being a simple genre flick. At the moments which, in an American movie, would be the most cloyingly sentimental, director Joon-ho Bong isn’t afraid to undercut the mood with slapstick, before quickly getting back to the thrust and drive of the narrative. In terms of satire, it is clear from the start that authority figures of any kind are likely to be either foolish or downright negligent—led by their hubris into errors of catastrophic scale. So, it is left to the family and their inventiveness to seek out the monster and bring an end to the chaos.