Horror Double Bill

16 Sep

The Host (2006)

When a toxic chemical from an American military base is dumped in the Han River, it creates a mutated behemoth that wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting citizens of Seoul. Gang-du is an ineffectual waster who works and lives in a food stand with his demanding daughter, Hyun-seo, and long-suffering father, Hee-bong. That’s about the full extent of the set up; the monster makes its first appearance fifteen minutes in, marauding through the streets and capturing Hyun-seo. Joined by his athletic sister, Nam-joo, and astringent brother, Nam-il, Gang-du vows to escape the quarantine the family has been placed under and find Hyun-seo.

Bong Joon-ho’s monster film is something of an oddity, at turns disturbing and whimsical. It quickly becomes apparent that this is far from a formulaic creature feature. Whatever the intention of the film-makers, ‘The Host’ is, no pun intended, a peculiar creature that works on any level you choose to take it. Is it a satire on genre convention, an allegory for US imperialism, a broadside against globalization, a parable on the dangers of environmental degradation, an attack on nuclear brinkmanship? Like most effective horror and sci-fi, it is sufficiently ambiguous to project all manner of metaphor and symbolism onto.

A slightly redundant subplot aside, ‘The Host’ features an engaging set of performances, stylish cinematography and snappy pacing. My chief complaint is with the monster itself, which appears too early and often and is more ‘Men in Black’ than ‘Cloverfield’. For me, it is always preferable to see the damage cause by the creature before unveiling the beast in the final reel.

The Descent (2005)

A lesson in how to shoot monsters on a budget could have been learned from British director Neil Marshall, whose ‘Dog Soldiers’ is a master class in using technical ingenuity to overcome financial constraints.

Marshall’s next entry into the ‘civilisation Vs barbarism’ canon is an equally effective genre piece. ‘The Descent’ takes the best elements of Craven, Raimi, Romero, Hooper et al. to produce a genuinely unsettling subterranean shocker, divesting itself of the flashy effects and ostentatious set pieces to put the viewer at the heart of the action.

The film begins with a jolt when lead character Sarah (Shauna McDonald) is involved in a car crash. On her recovery, Sarah joins a group of friends on a caving expedition. As the group descends into the uncharted bowels of the earth they disturb something primeval that they must do battle with to escape the caves alive.

The chaos and confusion that ensues is fantastically captured with kinetic camerawork and frenetic editing, the lack of visibility throughout is another effective tool in ramping up the tension. A cast comprising of smart, accomplished modern women is a concerted break from the usual retrograde portrayal of females in horror as imperilled scream queens there solely to boost the body count. It is also refreshing to see a film of this ilk where the group dynamic is sufficiently complex to make their fate actually mean something.

In the face of a slew of execrable remakes that have besmirched the name of horror, Neil Marshall brings a fresh perspective to a form that has become overly reliant on repetition and convention. ‘The Descent’ plays on elemental fears – the dark, confinement, nature itself – positing that manufactured adrenaline can never compete with genuine peril and terror. Much like its illustrious predecessors, it believes that, for all our modern trappings, we are essentially no different from the cave-dwelling creatures; we are a product of our environment, acting on instincts we are powerless to quell.

All things considered, it wasn't the best weekend.

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