I first became aware of South Korean director Bong Joon-ho somewhere around 2012. There were whispers of this movie Snowpiercer about a post-apocalyptic world in which a train traveled in perpetuity in order to save humanity … or something. It was my thing, and I couldn’t wait to see it.
Flash forward two years, and while the film had been released around the world, The Weinstein Company, in its infinite wisdom, buried Snowpiercer in a handful of theaters before putting it out on VOD after just a few weeks.
The film was brilliant—one of the best I saw that year. It wasn’t especially heady in the ways I thought it might be, but it was tense and surprising and directed with the flair of someone who really knew what he or she was doing.
It also has this, one of my favorite shots from any movie ever:
It should have been my cue to dive into Bong Joon-ho’s filmography, but the title that kept popping up was The Host, a 2006 monster movie. As much as I thought Snowpiercer was my jam, I thought The Host wasn’t. With a few exceptions, I had gone out of my way to avoid horror films during my life as a cinephile, and the monster movie subgenre was one that left me especially uninterested.
But not long into my first viewing, and as my colleague Alex said so well in his opening take, I realized The Host was not what I thought it would be. It can hardly be classified as a horror film. It’s not even a monster movie in the traditional sense. Certainly, a monster figures prominently into the film’s set-up, climax, and conclusion, but while respectful, it transcends genre in a lot of ways and feels fresher than most movies like it.
Of all the things I found surprising in The Host, its humor most took my breath away. Some of it is gross and violent, some of it is startlingly dark [see the somewhat famous family grieving sequence]. I watched The Host expecting, at almost every turn, for it to slide into something more familiar—that emotions would be explored honestly, that the horror of the situation facing our characters would be dealt with appropriately. It never really does those things—which admittedly sounds like a major flaw in the film—but it does so in such brazen and confident ways that you can’t help but smile.
If the film has a flaw, it’s that its direction is so good that it overshadows the film’s other qualities. I didn’t feel overly connected to any of the characters [and as such, no performance really stood out]. It’s also not an especially well-written film, but what it lacks in interesting dialogue, it makes up for in sheer creativity in concept and execution.
I don’t know where The Host fits in with Bong's earlier or later films. I see Snowpiercer in its DNA, and I understand Okja, his latest on Netflix, shares even more. But with a perfect batting average, I know it’s time to discover more. If anything tops The Host for sheer enjoyment, I’ll be shocked but delighted.