Edinburgh Film Fest Report: The Host Review
It doesn't hit screens at the Toronto Film Festival for a few weeks yet but Bong Joon-Ho's The Host has already hit screens at the Edinburgh fest, where Filmstalker's Richard Brunton gives it a perfect five star rating ...
The Host is a film that had been talked about a lot during its production and the teasers and posters I'd seen to date had gotten me pretty interested. So when it was announced for the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I had to go and see it.
I have to say I was more than impressed with what I saw. The Host is a film that provides something of everything from suspense to terror, from drama to a little touch of comedy, this film has it all. What's more surprising is that it delivers all of them very well and provides great entertainment on the way.
The opening of the film is perhaps one of the strongest I've seen. Starting with introductions to some of the main characters we instantly get a feel for who they are and what they are about, all the time with a healthy amount of humour. The first appearance of the creature is viewed quite satirically, or rather the peoples attitude and "car crash" mentality is.
Then when it races through a busy park attacking people, it's probably the best portrayal of group blind panic I've seen, and coupled with some excellent edge of your seat and distressing scenes. The shot of the girl standing in shock is one of the most disturbing scenes you'll witness, it's not something you'd expect to happen in a typical film and it's indicative of scenes to come.
Throughout the film you'll be toyed with, there are the usual straightforward scares, and one so effective I leapt out of my seat. There are also moments like the opening one at the park, where the unexpected happens and you really do get a surprise at the direction the story has just taken.
There are other similar incredibly strong moments that will hit you with a shock, and they seem out of place and going against what you believe should be happening. I felt myself looking at the screen in surprise thinking "That's not fair!", and that's a great response to illicit.
The frequent humour is an aspect of the story that is really well handled, it never detracts from other areas of the story, and often helps to relax a tense or distressing moment in order for the filmmakers to return to the situation and build it up again. Sneaky devils.
One of the oddest moments is when the family are mourning wildly in the school hall, this begins sadly and slowly, building in your uncomfortableness and sadness. Then something strange happens, they just manage to tip the performance into humour, just enough to lighten the situation and raise a few sniggers. Then photographers and film crews descend and we're presented with an interesting social commentary, yet you're still feeling the humour of the moment and just coming out from the sadness of the family. It's all wonderfully woven together.
The leads are good, particularly the young girl, Park Hyun-seo played by Ah-sung Ko, who is very convincing and strong in character. At times the emotions she shows are so natural and believable, you'll find yourself caught up in her scenes.
The other characters continually walk that fine line between comedic and serious performances. Each of them have their flaws which are shown throughout the film, but in the end each get their chance to redeem themselves and sometimes they get multiple chances, often they need them too.
That raises another interesting aspect, instead of following a standard route with the characters, their development follows the unusual turns of the film itself and we're treated to surprises and failures when we don't really expect them. Indeed you could almost say that these characters are more human than many fully focussed dramatic character based films.
The creature effects in this film are quite superb. It has weight and a natural, organic movement. So often CGI creatures will appear to run over the ground or not properly interact and collide with real life objects, here though every effort has been made to address this, and it works superbly.
I don't believe I'm spoiling anything about the movie when I say that the ending seems slightly flat against the amount of entertainment that the rest of the film has managed to deliver. It wraps everything up incredibly neatly, with each character having had their shot at redemption. Yet it was a little too neatly tied up for me, although it didn't detract from anything else the film gave.
I'd recommend this film even for those not interested in Asian Horror, for this can't be classed alongside what you would expect from a typical Asian Horror, indeed there's not even a lot of horror. This is a suspenseful, thriller, drama, comedy, you're getting the idea. It's great entertainment with some brilliant moments of shock and terror. Well worth watching.
Review by Richard Brunton.