Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Host d. Bong Joon-ho, 2006

The Host is a primer in what's wrong with the post-Spielberg, American horror film: what, e.g., House of Wax attempted to effect with jarring cuts, distended reveals, and claustrophobic framing, The Host achieves via a sophisticated use of tone and mood. The titular Host of the title - a telling American title (you'll see in a sec); the original could be literally translated as "Creature" - is shown in full detail during the film's first ten minutes. What Spielberg and coterie might reserve for the climax is here revealed during the intro. It's a brilliant move: whereas many horror films are based on an object - a face, a monster, a knife, &c. - The Host is free to anchor itself in plot structure and theme; rather than a teleological sprint from start from finish, the film is allowed to actually do something interesting.

However, that "something interesting" is political allegory. I was prepared to write this film off as a whole, but I simply could not - the suspense, the tangible horror is far too affecting to be subsumed by a limp indictment of political systems. To justify this, I've come to the conclusion that allegory - political and otherwise - simply is not interesting. To read a film - or book, or whatever - allegorically is to limit its scope. If The Host corresponds in a 1:1 ratio to an idictment of the weak political structure of its home country and the bullying intrusions of America, then it's hardly a film at all. Instead, it becomes either a piece of a propoganda or a mere signpost, pointing at an object with a near-dumb babble: "Look." (To be fair, The Host's political implications are far more subtle and complex than, for example, Land of the Dead's.)

Luckily, The Host is a much better film than the cadre of "Amerika Sux" critics would lead the astute reader to believe. The aforementioned suspense and horror already accounted for, The Host excels in its portrait of a family ripped apart on account of two monsters: one, the amphibious creature that still haunts my dreams, and the other the system that prevents the family from restoring itself. (Of course, this is a political system, and if you think I'm turncoating then you've misread me: I have no problem with a reading that deals with systems, etc.; problems arise when the reading becomes allegorical, assuming a 1:1 adherence - or even an overdetermined adherence - of the an object or idea in the film to a specific object or idea outside of the film.) The high octane thrills come from the Creature, and a perfectly fine film could have been made out of the horrors and problems of the creature alone, but the truly horrifying elements occur when the System attempts to deal with the problem of the Creature. Of course, dealing with the Creature means not dealing with the Creature and rather creating a new problem - here a fictitious virus - in order to separate the people from the creature. Mike D'Angelo points out that the canister of Agent Yellow (the virus-eradicator employed by the invading System that also eradicates all living things - not just the monster or virus - within a 10 km radius; read: Agent Orange, Hiroshima, and a terrible, heavy-handed attempt at allegory) is shaped similarly to the Creature when we first encountered it. The monster - the initial problem - and the attempt to eradicate the monster - the new problem - afflict the general populace equally and further trap the populace between themselves. The individuals that compose a system are dehumanized by the utter lack of selectivity on both ends: both the Creature and the System attack without any sort of individuating prejudice.

The positive note that the film ends on is a ruse: our protagonist is not safely united with a son, far away from harm, but alone (note his solitary shack) and paranoid (the gun, obviously.) The system corrupts and insures that the individual is assimilated.


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