Monday, May 7, 2007


With the inception of Midnight Screenings, my desire is to create a forum in which I can share with you some of the wonderful films that tend to go unnoticed among the big budget Hollywood spectacles. I also have an implicit affinity for the strange, unclassifiable and just plain weird, and many of those films find themselves regulated to the witching hour, hence the name of the site. So expect news, reviews and hopefully discussions on quality films, regardless if they’re from the art-house or the grind-house.

There’s not a better way to kick off the site than with the mention of a past TIFF Midnight Madness offering called THE HOST (Gwoemul). Now in limited theatrical release, and releasing on dvd July 24th, this South Korean blockbuster is an intelligent creature feature that dares to redefine its genre. The US army secretly dumps toxic chemicals into the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, that many years later results in the form of a terrifying creature that preys on human beings. Yes, this has been done countless times (EMPIRE OF THE ANTS being a personal favorite), the film is in no way your typical giant monster pic. This fact is immediately noticeable when the creature first makes its appearance. You experience it first-hand; as you would a bystander while standing along the river bank, staring into the water in complete disbelief. And when it eventually moves, it’s fluidity is not the unnatural mess most CGI creatures inhabit - the production quality is in a league of its own as the creature blends into its environments seamlessly (thanks to the magic makers at the Weta Workshop ("The Lord of the Rings") and The Orphanage). So when it starts charging down the sidewalk, it emerges from a blur in the distance, and its entrance is invigorating. But for all its action and effects, there is a heart and brain to this beast. Similar to the cold war era monster movies of the 50’s, this film similarly allows itself open to interpretation. These latent meanings are what gives these films such longevity. It’s until we separate ourselves from the plot and consider our surroundings, it’s cultural context, and perspective, are we additionally rewarded. The host in question becomes a metaphor for many; the dangers of pollution, the distrust of the U.S. (and quite possibly how the South plays as the “host” country for the U.S.’s ongoing turmoil with North Korea), SARS, as well as the nuclear threat from the North. Director Bong Joon-ho mixes this madness with great tonal shifts, infusing scenes of great dramatic tension into scenes of hilarity and slap stick. This element could be seen as a negative rather than as a positive, and it is something of personal taste, but I thought this was what really made this film stand out. It acknowledges its roots in popcorn movie-dom, and by mixing in humor, satire, and scares, he has made a film that refuses to be easily classified as simply another giant monster pic. Do yourself a favor: Catch it on the big screen, and make sure you bring enough popcorn to spill.

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