REVIEW: ‘Host,’ ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone’ prove foreign cinema has worth

Bong Joon Ho tackles more than just monsters in his 2006 kaiju horror film ‘The Host,’ which marries horror with social concerns. Promotional artwork for ‘The Host’ courtesy of Showbox Entertainment

In the wake of the recent Best Picture-winning sleeper hit Parasite, there has continued debate over the quality of foreign films. Many suggest that these films are simply getting recognition so that award academies can look more inclusive and diverse. If one were to look back, however, the foreign language film landscape– particularly the horror genre– is decorated with stylish, unique and innovative pieces that rely more on quality and impact than spectacle. These films utilize cinematic techniques that introduce a more immersive viewing experience, rather than just trying to get shock value from those watching. To truly appreciate film, one must appreciate films that are made outside of their small bubble in the world. Oftentimes, a better story is told in the subtitles of a film in another language than a film spoken entirely in English.

Also, maybe Hollywood could learn a thing or two about filmmaking.

Bong Joon Ho has always been a stellar filmmaker. Just watch The Host.

It’s the year 2006, and Bong Joon Ho’s film The Host is his first to receive significant commercial success. Put simply, it’s a monster movie mixed with timely social themes and a bit more classiness and polish than the average in the US. 

Following the improper and far-from-subtle disposal of toxic chemicals into the Han River, South Korean citizens are attacked by an underwater creature said to be the host of a deadly and unknown virus. The danger and terror associated with the threat of the creature sets off a state of panic in the nation, while the protagonist of the film specifically loses his daughter to the creature’s kidnapping tendencies. As she fights for her life, the estranged father uses the help of his witty and jocular father and siblings to rescue his pride and joy.

In the 2006 horror film ‘The Host,’ a family struggling against poverty must also face a monster laying waste to the local community. Promotional artwork for ‘The Host’ courtesy of Showbox Entertainment.

A younger version of Parasite star Kang-Ho Song stars in the film, offering a more relaxing and amusing performance than that of the former film. To keep in line with the established notions of the genre, the picture features moments of colorful comedy, such as escape scenes from hospitals and the sort-of sluggish character establishment in the early moments of the film. It is fast-paced and light-hearted, given the dire circumstances the characters are living under. Much like the director’s 2019 masterpiece, the film utilizes humor to keep it mainstream and fun, while intertwining social themes to give the piece true purpose. From the get-go, an established concept is the human nature to be inconsiderate of our environment, nodding towards the opening scene in which a scientist forces his foreign intern to dispose of the toxic chemicals in a system that leads to the Han River, despite the latter’s reluctance. 

Another prevalent theme that coincides with current world events is the public doubt of governmental authority in a time of crisis. The characters seem to always be combating the leaders of hospitals and border patrol as they navigate vague directions from those in charge. For instance, in one scene, a man in a yellow jumpsuit arrives at a public mourning area of those lost in the mysterious creature’s first attack. When pressured by the citizens to explain what is happening, the worker freezes and resorts to playing a video by the government. Realistic tropes such as these make the film just as intellectually sound and aware as it is entertaining. An even more impactful realization is that more than a decade after the film is made, there is still mass distrust between the public and the government, offering a frightening social commentary for how widespread this issue is and how little has changed.

On a more logistic scale, the film does somewhat succumb to basic horror movie cliches, having slow-motion scenes of tragedy and oversaturated clips of emotion. Still, the acting, themes, and stunning visuals save the film from plunging into underwater normalcy.

The Host is rated R. 

A girl can indeed walk home alone at night, among other things.

Showcased in ominous black-and-white and laced with beautiful acting and social themes, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night effortlessly mixes western charm with suspenseful thriller techniques, while telling a captivating and blood-stained romance story.

Shot in Bakersfield, California, but set in Iran and told in Farsi, the film follows a man, Arash, who lives among pimps, junkies, prostitutes, and drug dealers in the appropriately named Bad City. Living under the cloud of his heroin-addicted father Hossein, he becomes enthralled with a young woman in a chador who, unbeknownst to him, is a murderous vampire that attacks men who disrespect the female inhabitants of the town. Upon meeting Arash, the woman, who remains nameless for the entirety of the film, seems to have sympathy and compassion towards him, and the two forge an unlikely bond, which ends with a risky but bold move that signals commitment above all at the conclusion of the picture.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature is a mash-up of film genres, blending elements of horror, grindhouse, and even spaghetti western into a quiet examination of feminism and vampirism. Promotional artwork for ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ courtesy of Vice Films.

The debut feature for writer-director Ana Lily Amirpour serves as a triumphant blend of chilling noir and vampire thriller. With the use of a black-and-white filter, unsettling scenes of slow movement and limited dialogue, and a musical score that speaks a thousand words, it is equally reminiscent of films from the early 1900s and the independent movie genre still present today. This duality makes the film unique in viewing, unlike anything you have seen prior. 

Built on the theme of female oppression in society, our blood-sucking protagonist, whether you view her as a hero or villain, has clear motives for her actions and benefits from being a sensible criminal. Sheila Vand thrives in her role despite having minimal lines, and uses her face and distinct body movements to convey an eerie presence on screen. Her love interest, played by Arash Marandi, also succeeds as the good guy, the one who can break her evil tendencies and get her to let her guard down. Whether he’s high off drugs or reprimanding his drug-addicted father, he is very adaptable and transforms his character into an emotionally complex counterpart to our supernatural principal character.

The film is bogged down by its slow pace, as sometimes the need for visual splendor is favored over storytelling that can keep our attention. In these moments of static, it can feel as though the film has stopped and we are drifting, hoping to get back to the narrative and continue with the plot. Still, it is gripping in nature, with violent scenes of crime and the suspenseful feeling of something lurking behind every corner. The atmosphere alone stands as the film’s greatest strength, as it feels that you too are a disturbed resident of Bad City for its entire 100-minute length.

Promotional artwork for ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ courtesy of Vice Films

Favoring effective style over effective storytelling, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night provides a perfect concoction of several film genres to create a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that deserves its own category of eccentricity.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not rated, but is recommended for mature audiences due to nudity, drug usage, violence, and sexual references.

Alex Prince is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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