If you see one film that is actually a double feature and then see another film a coupla hours later, does that mean you saw a double-double?
Here there be spoilers, so consider y’self warned.
First up was Bong Joon-ho‘s The Host, a South Korean monster movie that played a bunch of festivals and got a lot of good press before it finally opened in North America this spring. It has been on my “to see” list ever since I first heard of it ‘cause a good monster movie is one of my favourite things, having spent countless childhood Saturday afternoons with Sir Graves Ghastly.
The premise is that an American military pathologist orders the secret dump of a huge quantity of formaldehyde into the Han River (which is based on a true story) and a few years later the result of that irresponsibility rears its (considerably ugly) head outta the water. The story then focuses on one (dysfunctional) family–a widowed father who runs a riverside snack truck in a picnic area at Wonhyo Bridge in Seoul, his two adult sons and daughter, and the young daughter of one of the sons—who find themselves in the unexpected position of having to be heroes. And the granddaughter is the only one who seems to have her shit together. So, as someone has suggested, it is kinda like Godzilla Meets Little Miss Sunshine.
Which is not to be confused with Bambi Meets Godzilla…
One of the startling things about how the story is told is that there is very little exposition after the prologue. We have barely started to get to know the main characters when the monster makes its first appearance and snatches one of ‘em and the story is on its rollicking way.
The other startling thing about how the story is told is the unexpected tonal shifting between suspense and comedy. And I mean lots of comedy—not just a small tension-relieving moment here and there but, rather, extended comedic scenes. For example, in a scene where the family gathers with others at a public memorial for victims of the monster’s first attack, their grief starts out private and serious but soon becomes ridiculous—with all four of them rolling about on the floor, weeping and wailing and having to be corralled by the police. I think my mouth mighta been hanging open in surprise at that point because it was so unexpected. And so it goes for the rest of the film—a weird and unsubtle but fun genre mashup, with a smidgen of anti-American political satire thrown in just to keep you on yer toes.
The monster, itself, is actually pretty goofy-looking. It’s basically a huge fish with legs…
The sequence when it first comes outta the river and starts chasing folks made my hair stand on end ‘cause (mebbe it’s just me, but) I don’t want anything in the water chasing me up outta the water. The monster was not exactly kept under wraps in the film’s pre-release, as it would’ve been if this had been a typical Hollywood monster movie. I mean, I had a pretty good idea of what it was gonna look like before I saw the film. And, in the story itself, we see the monster within the first 15 minutes or so of the film. Not just a little teaser of the monster—some ripples in the water or a shadow under the surface—but (YIKES) the whole slippery thing, gallumping through the panicking picnickers, snatching some here and there, knocking over trailers and scattering baskets and bodies in its wake.
It’s certainly not scary—the way I normally want a monster movie to be (Alien, anybody? Or The Tingler! That scared the bejeezuz outta me when I was that kid watching Sir Graves!). There are moments of suspense, sure, because the film announces very early that it is not necessarily going to be following “the rules” and so you’re never sure just where it might go next. The comedy is a little too broad to actually be funny to me, but I can appreciate what the director is doing with it. I do like a genre-bending experience like this one. So while The Host wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, that’s not necessarily bad thing. I had fun.
But this morning, walking from the office to Tim Horton’s (for a double-double, natch), on the bridge over the soupy green Thames, my nose filled with the rotten corn stench of the ethanol plant upriver, I saw a huge shadow pass below the surface of the river and I quickened my pace. So mebbe the film was scarier than I thought… 😉
I will get to Grindhouse (the other “double” of the double-double) later. I need to go do my duties as a Rawk the Puck panelist over at Mike Chen’s blog (and if you haven’t voted yet, why haven’t you?!)…
→ originally published 2007-04-12