Taking advantage of the relaxed restrictions on group activities, I went to a screening at my favorite screen in town. If I hadn’t known the ins and outs of an inhospitable campus, the parking may have cost me three times that of the movie ticket, but I really wanted to see this to find out which way the arrow would go for me for director Bong Joon-ho. I had seen three of his movies before, Snowpiercer, which I hated oh so much, Parasite which I really liked despite it winning a best picture Oscar, and Memories of Murder, which lives up to its reputation as possibly the finest example of Korean cinema. I promise, I’ll try to leave this director alone for a few years, but not until I get this off my chest.
Creature features are a lot of fun, and generally I find them cute and not the least bit scary. They’ve been around in that capacity for a long time, from deep sea leviathans smacking down Tokyo or New York, to giant ants crawling up skyscrapers and regular sized tarantulas made large in the southwest with cutely dated special effects. They rank up there with zombie films for their history of tellin’ it like it is, complete with monster.
Bong works in moron the way Dali worked in surrealism. His films have a way of throwing stupidity in the way of plot like a row of parked wrecks in front of a monster truck. It’s bumpy and messy but eventually the truck and the plot will force its way over. I’m not a fan of monster trucks or monster movies chock full of dangerously, unrelentingly stupid people. In The Host, not only is the central family a mess of foolishness but nearly every other character has thrown their hat in the ring to win the stupid contest. An American scientist, played by Scott Wilson (In Cold Blood, The Walking Dead) begins it all by imperialistically insisting his assistant pour 190 bottles of formaldehyde down the drain where it will end up in the Han River. When he insists that that will cause pollution the scientist replies that there’s a lot of water in the river so it will be fine. After the movie a toxicology professor talked a little about the movie and science and explained that the dumping actually happened, and that the scientist’s remark is based on the old adage, “dilution is the solution to pollution”.
Of course it doesn’t take long for some creature to mutate and turn into a super swimming, human chomping, American Ninja Warrior swinging mass of yucky looking and sometimes badly rendered special effects. But of course it’s only in the story to further the social commentary, which for a movie made years before Covid seems terribly current. We’ve become too familiar with the story of massively mishandled medical science emergencies, from a too slow response to the threat to mishandled protests against the official treatment, and yes the protestors used the word misinformation. It was creepy how prescient Bong was. There were obvious nods to other movies, my favorite being a Korean rendering of George Romero’s The Crazies, with space suited people robotically dealing with a threat by rounding up everyone, incarcerating them without a word of explanation and creating so much chaos in their reactions nothing useful is accomplished.
Wading through the whole thing is the dimwitted Park family who escapes the authorities who laugh at their story of creature swilled Hyun-Seo still being alive, led by her slack jawed father who I seriously thought was her older brother for the longest time. He may be a lazy idiot, but he loves his daughter and the whole family bonds over their search for her. As is typical in a Bong film, there is no safe character. There is very little intentional humor, and not a little of it went over my American head. I chuckled a few times but mostly the obvious jokes were forced and not really funny. The music was so all over the place that I found myself trying to drown it out, and the CGI was so bad a few times I wrote unkind words in my notes.
Overall, I was disappointed at what I consider a near miss of a good film. If you like creature features I believe you’ll like, but don’t expect the lofty greatness you’ll get from Memories of Murder or the Academy Award level Parasite. One thing that helped me not hate the film was the toxicologist’s talk afterward, which was mostly excruciatingly boring and not very related to the actual movie. He was enthusiastic, though. Bless his heart.