There's been a mix of PG-13 rated horror to try and hook the teen audience lately and a fair amount of very R-rated horror to try and win the attention of horror fans dismayed by the PG-13ish stuff in the marketplace. However, while there's been a fair amount of horror films lately, it seems like it's been a while since there's been a good monster movie.
"The Host", from writer/director Bong Joon-Ho, is not only the best monster movie in recent memory, but absolutely one of the most entertaining horror films in a while. The film opens in a lab in Korea where an American military commander orders one of the workers to dump a ton of toxic formaldehyde down the drain and then into the nearby Han River.
Shortly after, a group of people line up along the beach and stare at what appears to be....something hanging from a nearby bridge. When the thing uncurls and drops into the water, they think it's some kind of new fish and start throwing it food until it swims away. Imagine their surprise when they look down the pier and see an enormous creature barreling towards them at about a hundred miles an hour, picking people out of the crowd to snack on.
Snack food kiosk operator Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong) and his son Kang-du (Song Kang-ho) find themselves in the middle of the situation as it begins, and to Kang-Du's horror, his daughter Hyun-Seo (Ko Ah-Sung) is taken by the creature. After the family gets taken in for quarantine due to a virus that the government believes the creature is spreading to those who've come contact, they get a call from Hyun-Seo, who has been taken to the creature's lair for a snack later. With other family members Nam-Il (Park Hae-Il) and Olympic archer Nam-Joo (Bae Du-Na) in tow, the family escapes the quarantine and - with the government on their tail - head off to try and save Hyun-Seo. The film balances the story of the family quite nicely with the monster movie element and each element compliments each other nicely - we care about these characters, so the horror/monster scenes are that much more thrilling because we're rooting for them.
"The Host" does have a slightly slower middle and it didn't need to be 2 hours. That aside, I just loved this movie. The pacing is (mostly) superb and much of the movie moves forward with a fantastic momentum and urgency. The visual effects are also excellent: this isn't a movie where the creature is hidden in the shadows - 15 minutes in, the creature is out in broad daylight and it's convincingly hauling at full-speed towards the camera. There's one moment towards the end where the effects don't hold up, but the creature is a fantastic creation. The film's cinematography is also bold and shots are wonderfully constructed and composed. The characters aren't entirely three-dimensional, but the performances are very enjoyable and it's easy to care about the fate of the leads.
"The Host" isn't without flaws - the movie could be a little tighter, for exxample - but it's otherwise just an incredibly entertaining and fun monster movie that I recommend highly.
VIDEO: "The Host" is presented by Magnolia in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality was generally excellent, as the picture appeared crisp and detailed throughout the show. Some slight edge enhancement was seen - as were a few instances of very light artifacting - but the film otherwise looked clean and clear. Colors looked somewhat subdued throughout the film, but this looks to be by intent.
SOUND: The film is offered in both Korean and English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations. The Korean soundtrack is the best choice (although, as bad as the dubbing was for the English soundtrack, it wasn't terrible as dubbing goes) and the film's sound design is exceptional, using the surrounds to put the viewer in the midst of the chaotic monster attack scenes. Surrounds also offer some creepy ambience, as well. Audio quality was terrific, as music, dialogue and effects were crisp and clear. The monster attacks also deliver some solid, deep bass, as well.
EXTRAS: Commentary from director Bong Joon-Ho, who's joined by a long-time friend whose task is to keep the writer/director on track during the commentary and act as interviewer. The commentary is insightful and informative, as we learn about effects work, the development of the story, locations, working with the actors and much more. We also get a short featurette where the director reflects on the film, as well as deleted scenes (about 23 minutes worth) and deleted news clips.
The second disc of this 2-DVD Special Edition set offers up a lengthy, multi-part "making of" documentary that is split into: an interview with the director, "storyboards", "direction", "memories of the sewer", "set design", "physical effects", "sound design" and score. I found the "physical effects" section most interesting, as it provided a great behind-the-scenes look at the inspired ways the physical effects were created and also provided some discussion of pre-production and post-production. The sound design section also provided some great insights on the film's audio, while "Memories of the Sewer" has the actors and crew chatting about the true horrors of actually filming in a horrible sewer.
The next section is devoted to the creature, and looks into the conceptual art phase, designing the creature, bringing the creature to life, building the creature at WETA workshop, puppet animatronix, animating the creature and finally, "Why'd it do that?". The WETA featurette is a lot of fun as we see the filmmakers head to the WETA facility in New Zealand to work on the design and creation of the creature. The conceptual art featurette also is quite fascinating, as it shows how the look of the creature was refined over time.
A cast section offers a feature on the extras and extras casting, audition tapes for the cast, cast interviews, a training/rehearsal featurette and a cast interview featurette.
Finally, we get the "Saying Goodbye" featurette (a closing summary from cast and crew), a gag reel and a pair of Korean trailers.
Note: the featurettes are in Korean, with English subtitles.
Final Thoughts: "The Host" isn't without a few minor flaws - the movie could be a little tighter, for exxample - but it's otherwise just an incredibly entertaining and fun monster movie that I recommend highly. The DVD edition offers fine audio/video quality and a few solid supplemental features. Those looking for more extras can get the 2-DVD Special Edition for only a few dollars more (in the case of Amazon.com, only a dollar difference between the two releases.)
The Film A