“The Host” (2006): Bong Joon-ho’s darkly comedic take on a tired genre

There’s something alive in the river…

Max Vetter, Entertainment Reporter

Monster movies, quality wise, seem to be as dead of a genre as one of the titular monsters’ many victims. We’ve seen mutants, vampires, and when handled by larger studios, the movie monster has lost its charm. Well, in the U.S., that is. 

If there was going to be a cinematic movement which revitalized monster horror for the mainstream, it was going to be The Korean New Wave. And if there was going to be a director who did it, it would be Bong Joon-ho. Before “Parasite” (2019) stole the hearts of U.S. and international audiences, Bong Joon-ho had been making incredibly fresh and well made genre movies; his most famous being “Memories of Murder” (2003) and as you may expect, “The Host”.

“The Host” follows the lowly Park family, who sell snacks in a tiny shop situated on the Han river. This paradigm is shifted when a horrifying monster, created by the vast amount of pollution in the Han, emerges from the river and kidnaps the Parks’ youngest, Hyun-seo. “The Host” wastes no time introducing the monster, which appears just over ten minutes into the movie. This turns “The Host” into something akin to an abduction thriller as well as a monster movie, where the larger plot is about a monster that needs killing, and the more ground level is about a family who wants their daughter back. Like any great Bong Joon-ho movie, the film straddles the line between thrilling, scary, and occasionally hilarious and rarely missteps. The characters aren’t completely realistic, but they’re relatable in their struggles against poverty, the monster, and even the Korean and U.S. military.

Like any great movie monster, the titular Host is not just a monster. On a surface level, the monster is an obvious metaphor for the pollution of the Han river. But as the film progresses, and it’s revealed that the monster may be hosting a deadly virus, the beast becomes so much more than the Han river, though what exactly would be a spoiler. To compliment Bong’s brilliant script are the wonderful performances all around. The stand out performer, as is the case with most movies he’s in, is Song Kang-ho, who plays the dim-witted patriarch of the Park family. Additionally, “The Host” boasts a rare good child performance, with all of Go Ah-sung’s scenes being highlights, especially because of her dynamic with the monster.

To complement all of this is the fantastic presentation. Like much of the Korean New Wave, the camerawork is exaggerated to heighten the tone. When there’s a bunch of people behind a door, you don’t just see them, the camera makes an impossible pan down to show that their blood is seeping below it. But even with this peculiar style, it’s clear Bong has a unique control over the camera. Shots never feel like they were made without clear thought about blocking, which, along with the lighting, help to ground the monster into the universe of the movie. Speaking of which, while the visual effects of the monster are certainly dated, the integration into the real world is shockingly good. The monster has a fantastic and unique design, and has a real presence that you often don’t even get in big budget affairs, especially in low light scenes.

“The Host”, when released, was a phenomenon, and for good reason. Along with being an incredibly entertaining monster movie on its own, it capitalized on societal unease, just like the rest of Bong’s work. It’s rare you get a monster movie that can actually move you on an emotional level, but what’s even rarer is that it’s given the budget to have the proper scale it needed. If you’re a fan of horror, genre fiction, or just need a good movie, I implore you to go watch “The Host.” It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.