This week’s Netflix selection was The Host, a Korean monster/comedy/action/horror/satire film in which a giant mutant tadpole type thing terrorizes the vicinity of the River Han in Seoul. (No, seriously!)
Okay, so this setup probably sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this was actually the most enjoyable monster movie romp I’ve seen in years. The monster is appropriately horrifying and grotesque, the government’s response is amusingly inept, the satire is biting (no doubt even more so if you’re from or familiar with South Korea), and the family dynamic believably dysfunctional. When the monster first appears, swimming in the water, the bystanders on shore have probably the most realistic reaction I’ve ever seen in a monster movie: They start throwing beer cans and garbage at it. This is the same sort of thing that happens in Shaun of the Dead when our heroes react to the zombie plague by taking pictures. But this monster has a propensity for bringing people back to its lair in the sewer so it can eat them later, and after it carries off young Hyun-seo, her family goes to extreme measures to try to rescue her.
I was relieved to see, finally, a monster movie where the characters actually have a believable reason to risk their own lives in an incredibly long-odds rescue attempt. (Although I enjoyed Cloverfield, it definitely fell into the “why-are-these-people-being-this-stupid” category of amateur heroics.) I can’t think of any scenes that played false, not even the hilariously over-the-top mourning scene early on when the family is confronted by a picture of the presumed-dead Hyun-seo in a gymnasium turned refugee center. (This reminded me of Ed Helms’s staged nervous breakdown at a political convention on The Daily Show, which just made it funnier.) Although all the principal characters were interesting and the acting excellent, far and away my favorite was Bae Doona as Park Nam-joo, Hyun-seo’s aunt, who plays a professional competitive archer with an unfortunate tendency to hesitate before firing. Just shoot, Auntie! (Disclaimer: We watched it in Korean with English subtitles. I have no idea if the dubbed English voices are any good.)
For obvious reasons, my wife was extremely skeptical about The Host, but she ended up enjoying it. (Really!) It put her to sleep in about an hour and fifteen minutes. (In contrast, she stayed awake throughout Cloverfield, but that’s because she was playing on the computer and ignoring it.) When we finished up The Host later in the week, she stayed awake for the rest of it.
The Host is rated R for violence but it’s not particularly gory at all, except perhaps for one scene where the monster disgorges the bones of its victims. That was kind of nasty. Still, if this is an R movie, then so is The Dark Knight, and it wasn’t. So there!