The third full-length feature from director Bong Joon-ho, 'The Host' is a monster movie with a dysfunctional family at its heart. It has a broader perspective that most examples of the genre, being directly critical of US military actions in South Korea. One of the prequels which lays the groundwork for later mayhem is based on an actual event in which the US military dumped large amount of toxic formaldehyde down a drain leading to Seoul's Han River. In real life, the man responsible was found guilty of the offence in a Korean court. In 'The Host' this formaldehyde is responsible for the growth of a mutant monster - courtesy of the Oscar-winning (for 'Babe') John Cox Creature Workshop - that lays siege to a terrified Seoul.

The creature, looking like an enormous, ugly many-mouthed carp with prehensile projections, makes an early appearance, hanging from a bridge over the Han River. It's not inactive long, embarking on a bloody spree by the riverbank, killing bystanders and dragging Hyun-Seo (Ah-Seong), the daughter of slacker single father Kang-Du (Kang-Ho), into the depths. The rest of the film deals with the attempts of Kang-Du and his family - hardworking father Hee-Bong (Hee-Bong), drunken brother Nam-Il (Hae-Il) and archer Nam-Ju (Doo-Na) - to escape from the authorities, who believe they may all be carrying a virus from the monster, and save Hyun-Seo.

With 'The Host' Joon-ho subverts the normal structure of genre filmmaking and it is this element of the unexpected that can either capture or frustrate an audience. The characters certainly aren't sympathetic but they are well-rounded, in their own peculiar ways, although their hidden reserves of strength seem a little unlikely. There are several satirical sideswipes at the Americans and Joon-ho is nothing if not inclusive, also making digs at the Korean government and their way of dealing with the situation. Joon-ho's control over pacing does slip somewhat over the two-hour running time and some scenes become somewhat repetitive. This aside, with comic overtones and a melancholy undertow, 'The Host' has far more depth than your typical monster flick.

Caroline Hennessy