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The Host’ fails to deliver thrills with killer tadpole

Sean Sweany | Thursday, March 29, 2007

With the abundance of “slasher” films taking over the horror genre at the box office, Hollywood seems to have shied away from making the “monster” film in attempts to scare audiences. Gone are films like “Godzilla” and “Mimic,” replaced instead by “Turistas” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

For whatever reason, Hollywood producers have deemed giant monsters no longer scary enough to warrant lavish budgets and productions. Fans of the fading genre received cause to hope when it was announced that the South Korean monster film “Gwoemul” would be released in the U.S. under the title “The Host.”

As a highly anticipated foreign film, expectations were high that “The Host” would become the next “Jaws” upon its stateside release. Unfortunately, somewhere between a tadpole being mutated into a giant tadpole and people trying to kill it with Molotov cocktails, the film falls far short of these expectations.

The movie begins when a U.S. military facility dumps toxic chemicals into Seoul’s Han River, eventually causing an innocent tadpole to morph into a giant, man-eating tadpole. When it comes of age, the ungainly looking monster decides to wreak havoc on the residents of Seoul, eating some and taking others back to its sewer lair.

One victim whom the monster keeps alive is Hyun-seo, the granddaughter of Park Hee-bong, who operates a snack bar on the banks of the river. Although the U.S. military declares quarantine throughout the entire city, Park and his three dysfunctional children decide to ignore this to try to hunt and kill the giant tadpole, thus rescuing Hyun-seo.

The problem with “The Host” is that it tries to combine several movies into one. There is a storyline about the deadbeat single father trying to raise a daughter. There is a storyline about a family trying to cope with its emotional difficulties. There is an undercurrent of satire about U.S. involvement in an affair that should rightfully be handled by South Korea. And hanging over all of this is a storyline about a giant mutant tadpole.

No matter that any of these stories could have potential if developed properly – they are so lazily developed by director Joon-Ho Bong that no one ends up caring at the end of the film which characters will live or die. More often than not, humor arises – unintentionally – out of situations in the film, even in what should be a sad scene when the family is mourning the death of one of their own.

The most depressing aspect of “The Host” is that the monster is not scary. The CGI is poor and the monster mostly lumbers around like a St. Bernard, making it funnier than anything else. We assume that the monster is a “host,” but this is not made clear, nor is there anything at the end of the movie to frighten viewers that the mutant has spawned offspring that will continue to terrorize society.

The two-hour running time seems to drag on interminably, and at the film’s conclusion, one wonders whether the plot could have been carried out in half the time so as to endure only half the pain.

There is a chance that “The Host” is intentionally trying to be a B-list movie, but it fails at that goal. It also fails to do what a good monster movie should do – make the viewer fear the monster.

Viewers can rest assured that if they choose to endure “The Host,” they will be no more afraid of tadpoles coming out of the theater as they did going in to it.