STRANGE SIGHTINGS IN THE NETFLIX BASEMENT
Every week, I slither into the sewer that is the Netflix bargain basement and see what atrocities lurk below the surface of mainstream TV reruns, hit movies you’ve seen a hundred times before, and unspeakable Adam Sandler Originals.
THE HOST (2006)
The Host (2006) has a reputation as a Cult Classic. Upon release, it got pretty good reviews and it’s a movie I have wanted to see for a while, but never got around to it… until now.
The Host is a South Korean Giant Monster Movie Horror/Satire. There’s a quick prologue as coroners dump gallons of formaldehyde down the drain into the Han River. The movie gets down to business pretty quickly as, years later, a giant mutant Fish-Squid-Lizard thing with a prehensile tale slither-runs out of the Han River and attacks a bunch of tourists.
The initial attack is pretty terrific. The monster being a mutant Thing-That-Should-Not be is clumsy and pretty bad at killing people. Ultimately, the Host grabs up adorable moppet Hyun-Seo and whisks her off into the river. Her family mourns her, but is she really dead? In a funny scene, they histrionically carry on at the mass funeral, finally collapsing in grief.
Our main characters are Hyun-Seo’s family: Grandpa who vows vengeance on the beast, Auntie Nam-Joo, who’s an Olympic Archer, her slacker Uncle, and finally burned-out dad Gang-Du who was sprayed with monster blood trying to rescue a plump tourist and gets infected with monster pox. When Gang-Du gets a mysterious phone call from the girl saying she’s still alive, the family decides to hunt down the monster.
Plot complications arise as the Korean Government gasses and kidnaps witnesses to cleanse them… or study them? Government Agents claim the monster is so toxic that just touching it causes skin lesions. Then Government agents spray gas disinfectant all over the river to poison the monster. Yeah, like that’ll work.
After this, the movie bogs down in a series of repetitive scenes of the family trying to rescue Hyun-Seo and failing, Gang-Du getting captured, tortured by doctors for research, and then escaping only to get captured again, and scenes of Hyung-Seo trying and failing to escape. Maybe the filmmakers were going for a nightmarish, “you can never escape the monster pursuing you” quality, but I found it pretty exhausting. Maybe watching it on TV sapped some of the excitement and tension. I can’t say for sure.
The Host is very well made and well acted. Most importantly, the monster looks terrific with both practical and computer effects handled by Weta and The Orphanage. It is effectively slithery and repugnant. Unlike in Spectral, the washed out colors are used for thematic effect as the rain falls continuously, there is lots of rotting stuff, mentions of disease, thick disinfectant smoke, and a grody monster lair. The filmmakers continually remind us that this monster is gross and diseased, so everyone wears masks and Government Agents wear hazmat suits. There is a running motif of humans eating disgusting stuff like squids and oysters to parallel the monster, who’s awful diet includes humans. All of this effectively creates a delightfully melancholic and icky mood.
BOTTOM LINE: Like all Kaiju films, the movie is a little hokey whenever the Big Guy is off-screen. There are nice moments of humor, like Hyun-Seo making phone calls whenever a new victim is burped up and she takes their cell phone. Or how Auntie is comically prevented from ever shooting an arrow, but it stops being funny about halfway through. Ultimately, the movie is 20 minutes too long, but this is Netflix, where you can pause whenever you like. so for Giant Monster Movie fans like myself, you should definitely check it out.