Friday, March 16, 2007

Movie Chat: The Host

The Host

Like Sean Collins, I'm always a little suspicious about the way "mainstream" critics will latch onto a horror movie if they can read it as political allegory. While it's true enough - a lot of horror movies do have political commentary in their sub-or-not-so-sub-text - that tends to be the least interesting/enjoyable part (for this horror fan at least). For instance, I know that George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is meant as a critique of consumerism, etc., but it's a one-note, one-joke critique and while it adds something to the movie, it's not exactly the icing on the cake (i.e. something superficial that nonetheless holds the movie together). It's more like knowing that the baker used Splenda and egg whites while making the cake, so you don't have to feel so guilty about eating it.

(For the record: what I like about Dawn is the way it gets at the dynamics of people coming together and falling apart when they're under pressure). (Also for the record: this is probably why I was a bit "meh" about Romero's Land of the Dead, which is lots and lots of political commentary and skimps on the "people under pressure" details). (Final for the record: I think all the attention paid to the social/political messages of Romero's movies has obscured his status as one of the most interesting religious filmmakers out there). (Sorry, I lied: I feel sort of the same way about a lot of the critical takes on Carl Barks's Duck stories: yes, a lot of them (cleverly) make some (very clever) political points, but that seems (to me) to be such a small part of what makes them great, that the fact that critics spend so much time pointing that out seems (to me) like they're performing some kind of penance).

Anyway, I bring all this up just to say that though there's some political (anti-American) stuff in The Host, it seems like a relatively small part of the movie. Although maybe that's because the movie is such a mix of genre, tones, and moods that any single element is going to seem small when compared to the whole. Any element except for the creature, that is, which is everything I'd want from a movie monster.

I should also note that I usually have some trouble responding to the seemingly, wildly incoherent tones and styles of a lot of the Korean movies that I've seen. For instance, I liked parts of Welcome to Dongmakgol, but I honestly did not know what to make of its sudden shifts from the realistic military violence of Saving Private Ryan to the magical folksy sentiment of something like I Know Where I'm Going to the cartoonish slapstick of a Will Ferrell movie and then back to Saving Private Ryan for a bloody, depressing ending (which, FYI, is much more anti-American than anything in The Host). Even the Bollywood movies that I've seen - with their plots about terrorists and big romantic musical numbers and over-the-top action sequences - seem to have had a more coherent vision than Dongmakgol.

The Host is also kind of all over the place tonally, but the director manages to pull everything together by (a) keeping a coherent visual style and (b) tempering everything else with a sense of sympathetic, bemused irony.

My two "gripes" that aren't really gripes, but more like nitpicks:

  1. Structurally, there's a slight problem in that the movie's most technical brilliant and viscerally moving sequence comes really early and though everything that comes after is still really good, that there isn't more that's also breathtaking is a bit of a let down (see also The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan).

  2. This is much more personal, but my girlfriend was able to watch The Host pretty much all the way through, which means that, for me, for a horror movie, it was lacking in both the gore and scares departments. Last year's (IMHO) underrated Slither isn't as good a movie as The Host, but it's constant one-upping of the "ick" factor is more what I'm looking for from a movie about slimy mutant creatures who are trying to eat us. Also, the trailer that I saw quoted some critic comparing this to Jaws, but both Jaws and Jurassic Park are more suspenseful/scary than this.

Still, I liked it, and for those keeping score at home, currently my favorite movie of the year.

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