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NYFF: “The Host.”

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"You grabbed the wrong hand!"Yeah, it’s pretty damn good. (We’re on our last festival legs here — our next review may not even be in complete sentences: Movie good! Acting so-so. Hey look, mise en scène.) But we’re a bit concerned that Bong Joon-ho‘s "The Host" has been burdened with enough breathless praise off the festival circuit that it’s going to disappoint some: it is first and foremost a monster movie, after all, and an enthusiastically shabby one that’s not pushy with its startlingly dark political and social subtext. If "Gojira" offered a nation’s trauma and terror of nuclear testing made (reptilian) flesh, "The Host" suggests a present in which people are the helpless victims of various inept, unreasonable, impersonal and uncaring systems — the monster, frightening as it is, has nothing on the military doctors, who might accidentally lobotomize you while looking for a virus they’ve already acknowledged amongst themselves probably doesn’t exist.

The monster is a mutated form of Han River life that springs up after someone at the US military base has dozens of jars of formaldehyde poured down the drain (and thus into the water supply) because they’re…dusty. Several years later, it’s uncoiling from the supports of a bridge and galloping along the shoreline devouring people in a sequence both brutal and disturbingly funny. A kind of lurching cross between a bus-sized tadpole, a T-Rex and the creatures in "Alien," the monster is a great creation, a CG character that feels decidedly substantial and that’s both grotesque and, like the rest of the film, sometimes goofy.

Our unheroic hero is Park Kang-du ("Memories of Murder"‘s Song Kang-du), a lazy lifelong fuck-up working at his father’s food stand by the water and making well-meaning but incompetent gestures toward being a father to his self-possessed tween-aged daughter Hyun-seo. Hyun-seo is plucked up by the monster in front of his eyes; luckily (perhaps), she survives being regurgitated and dumped in a pit for later consumption, and manages to make a cell phone call to her father. Unluckily, the entire ragtag Park family (Kang-du, his father, his professional archer sister and his unemployed, alcoholic brother) has been quarantined by the government, which fears that the monster is carrying a virus that may have infected everyone who’s come in contact with it. No one believes Kang-du; the Parks must escape and rescue Hyun-seo themselves.

As in his previous film "Memories of Murder," Bong shifts fluidly between genres: "The Host" is at once a drama, a horror flick, a comedy, a social satire and a saga of wacky family bonding. The underlying tone, however, is astonishingly disheartened — there’s little uplift to the end, and plenty of scenes play as comedy so black we did a double-take. If the Parks prevail, it’s at great personal cost, and the ending is more a wistful reminder of the kindness of some than a scene of hope. There’s a reoccurring mention of seori, of children stealing food from farms either out of mischievous fun or genuine hunger. As one scrounging teenager tells his younger brother, it’s about the right of the hungry to have food, and there’s something briefly reassuring about the idea, that if you need something to survive, society will bend the rules to allow you to have it — other people will help you in your time of need. Of course, then the monster swoops down and swallows him whole.

No more festival screenings — opens in theaters January 29.

+ "The Host" (NYFF)
+ "The Host" (Magnolia Pictures)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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