I never thought I would see a monster movie where I cared about what happened to the humans. The Host is a first. It features a cast of potential victims that you don't get monster-movie joy from when they expire.
That is triumph enough, because many monster flicks flop for me when there's no monster on screen. Here, the plight of the blue-collar family is rendered in human terms: They don't band together to kill a monster, they're trying to find a missing little girl. The monster is just part of the problem.
The Host has top-notch effects (from Weta, the Lord of the Rings people), but the directing stood out for me. It twists creature feature cliches like onscreen placement and camera moves. My favorite part is early in, when a panoramic shot of a river is spread out with the movie's hero at the bottom of the screen. Monster-flick rules mean something's coming out of that water. But to the hero's right, he sees a speck in the distance, growing larger, charging toward him like a train.
Unlike many of its like, the story keeps moving when the monster isn't on screen. Like Godzilla, this is a cautionary tale, as human slap-assedness spawns the beast. "The Host" of the title isn't the monster, it's a virus caused by the polluted river where it comes from. Another tweak of monster movie cliches is the government workers aren't bold scientists, they're bureaucratic clock-watchers. In one funny bit, a guy who offers to help the search reveals he's after the reward on the missing girl.
The monster looks great. It's disgusting, but in a good way. It looks like an RV-sized catfish that can walk. And wait till you see the size of the hush puppies!
The effects are good enough that the monster remains dread-worthy, even though it appears often, even in daylight. Computer animation has cranked out many giggle-friendly movies on the Sci Fi Channel, but this is not that. It's very well-done, and the live actors react well to it. It doesn't look like a cartoon; it moves and affects its surroundings like a real thing. Weta obviously is good at this stuff, but this one stands out because it's just one thingy, not an army of cyclopses or talking trees.
The movie poster implies a squid, but what it delivers is scarier. There is some tentacle action, but it's more like tendrils, really. Or more accurately, catfish whiskers.
Even without tentacles, the thing is gross and scary. This is because it moves creepily, and it's a damn walking catfish.
I didn't care for one part of the ending. The actiony part is satisfying, and it resolves an obvious setup from the movie's opening scenes. The ending is not a fairy-tale Hollywood one, and it is also not a 1980s-style monsters-win conclusion. But one character's story didn't match with his or her payoff. It was kind of a bummer.
But other than that, I really dug it.
The movie is clever, and knowingly winks at its genre while embracing everything about it. It's a story excellently told, a creature feature with style, and a monster that would be delicious with a dump-truck sized baked potato.