Many reviews of The Host written by American film fans seem to have trouble with the many mood swings that take place within the film. As an example, the first sequence in which the monster appears and goes on a rampage is quite possibly the most pulse-pounding and intensely exciting bit of cinema so far this decade. The only competitor I can think of offhand that I’ve seen is the opening sequence of 28 Weeks Later. Let’s just call it a tie and leave it at that. What allows both the sequence in The Host and 28 Weeks Later to rise to a high level of intensity that isn’t shared in the entirety of the bulk of horror films of the past thirty years is that there is an emotional connection. 28 Weeks Later has a ferociously intense sequence in which the rage virus zombies crash a quaint country house, but what really makes it stick is the controversial decision that the lead character makes; a decision that will propel several plot twists throughout the movie. It is a decision all to easy to damn, but one that 99% of us would make in the same situation. (It is the character’s later decision to lie that really draws a line down the middle.) The sequence in The Host takes place later in the film and by that point we’ve gotten to know the two main characters that are the focus of the chase sequence and therefore we are emotionally involved. What happens is not just punishing emotionally, but is directed exquisitely and actually manages to use slow motion to brilliant effect. (I think that may be the first time since Raging Bull that this happened.) Not terribly long after this sequence is another that involved a family grieving over a lost member. The scene begins with simple crying, but eventually evolves into an over-the-top outpouring of emotion that goes on for a very long time and results in the production of nervous laughter made all the more so by the anxiety over whether we’re meant to laugh or not. (My guess is yes.)
The Host focuses on the Park family and in many ways it is a character study of the family unit more than a monster movie. One thing about The Host that sets it so far above most films made today is that I can guarantee that anyone not familiar with this film could not predict where it is going to go. That is amazing for any film; for a monster movie it is beyond the pale. Monster movies are, by definition, supposed to be entirely predictable. The monster appears and one by one people get killed and then eventually the monster gets killed. (Or does it?????) Well, forget your preconceptions because the twists and turns that take place in The Host involves an almost silent film comedy sequence and a sudden, jarring turn about two-thirds of the way through that temporarily separates the memorable Park family. Before long, we’re also being asked to accept an almost Frankenstein-esque subplot, and as if that weren’t enough it all winds up as a political allegory. You know that saying “they don’t make movies like that anymore?” Hollywood never made films like The Host.
And that may be why so many Americans have trouble with it. It defies genre expectations as well as dramatic conventions. The Host contains scenes of exceptionally emotional intensity followed immediately by scenes of almost slapstick humor. In America we have terms like tragicomedy, dramedy and black humor. None of those fit The Host. It is a monster movie. It is a monster movie parody. It is a drama about a family coping with tragedy. It is a comedy of errors. It is a political allegory. The Host is all these things and more. The only thing The Host isn’t is boring.