Issue #28: The Night Is Dark And Full of Terrors 😱
Run + The Host
Yes, it's the holiday season, but Spooky Szn never dies. It's part of the schtick, really. Especially in times like these, it seems like our horrors—and the movies that portray them—are always just a click away. As COVID numbers tick upwards after the holiday weekend *stern, judgey look* we're back to the kind of low hum of fear that touched our lives and became so frustratingly familiar back in March and April.
So this week we're leaning in and picking horror films that ring true to us. Both our selections this week served as reminders—in their own way—of just how close fear can sometimes creep. First up, Cate on Run, and the dangers that seep in when you lose autonomy over your own life. Then Zosha writes on how Bong Joon-ho's talent makes The Host more twisty and terrifying than it had to be. Stay safe, y'all.
Cate on Run
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Distributed by: Hulu
There’s a unique terror inherent in relinquishing control. Not because it’s the most dangerous thing a person could do, but because it requires the most vulnerability and trust. When you find yourself in a position that requires the aid of another, asking for that help means making yourself vulnerable to the possibility of their cruelty. It’s why the ill, infirm and the young are the most likely to be abused.
Hulu’s Run takes that terror to the extreme with a new Munchausen’s by proxy thriller. The film highlights its protagonist’s extreme vulnerability but goes to great lengths to show that she is not helpless. In Run, Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a home-schooled wheelchair user who is awaiting college acceptance notifications. Living with a number of ailments including asthma, diabetes and arrhythmia, she and her mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) have a well-oiled routine. But when Chloe finds a strange new pill prescribed to Diane that turns up in her own daily cocktail of medications instead, her suspicion leads her down a path to discovery, terror, and freedom.
Kiera Allen is a revelation in the role of Chloe. Allen is the first wheelchair user to star in an action film, and only the second to lead a film of any genre. The film’s producers reported that other actresses lied about their wheelchair use in order to secure auditions for the film, but it’s clear that their determination to find an actually disabled lead paid off. Allen effortlessly conveys the daunting task that simple acts like getting down the stairs can be without the use of one’s legs, and the film zeroes in on how much of the world is simply not crafted for the full participation of the disabled.
Diane’s tense escalation of her cruelty towards her daughter does not include the usual violence. Instead, she attempts to thwart her by far more mundane means— a locked door, a cut phone line, a disabled chair lift, a disconnected modem. The result then, is that Chloe is given the chance to show her ingenuity and resourcefulness by overcoming obstacles that would stymie the rest of us. After all, she’s had a lot more practice.
Eventually, the game is revealed— Diane’s own daughter died hours after birth, and she kidnapped Chloe as a child, later paralyzing her with a precise combination of drugs in order to guarantee her place as Chloe’s caretaker. The movie then becomes an all-out war between mother and daughter. Chloe’s attempt to secure outside aid is interrupted by her mother’s treachery, but she’s willing to go to extremes. She ingests a household chemical, forcing Diane to hospitalize her or watch her die. But Diane is no stranger to kidnapping people from hospitals, and she tries again to escape with her chosen daughter. As she wheels Chloe through the hospital’s lengthy hallways, Chloe’s face belies the extreme nature of her plight. Unable to move, she swivels her head back and forth, searching the faces of each person they pass for someone who will recognize that she needs help. Never once does she stop fighting to get free.
In the end, though, it’s Chloe who saves herself. As she regains the feeling in her legs, she sets the foot brake on her wheelchair, giving hospital security time to catch up to her. Diane is shot and incapacitated, sentenced to spend the rest of her days in a prison’s infirmary. But pointedly, for Chloe, the happy ending here is not that she ceases to be disabled. Instead, she regains some of the use of her legs, but still uses her wheelchair for mobility. She is not “better” because she is no longer disabled. She’s better because she’s no longer being manipulated or gaslit by a captor who claimed to love her. Her disability remains a part of who she is, and she goes on to live a full life and build a career that is informed by her experiences.
Run works as a compelling thriller because it casually reminds viewers that disability is a class that anyone can join. Whether by birth, accident or malice, anyone can become disabled, and so disability rights and concerns apply to everyone. The medical abuse that Chloe suffered didn’t happen because she was a less capable person but because literally disabling her made her more vulnerable to Diane’s need to control her whereabouts and need for independence. But regardless of what society at large may imply, disabled people are no less capable of leading full and vibrant lives—and that includes starring in action movies.
Zosha on The Host
Written by: Baek Chul-hyun and Bong Joon-ho
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Distributed by: Showbox Entertainment
As someone who loves complexity and conundrums, I am never not delighted by how Bong Joon-Ho lacks the urge for subtlety while being one of the most subtle filmmakers that come to mind.
2006’s The Host is a prime example. It starts with an American scientist on a military base in South Korea, instructing his Korean partner to just toss the excess chemicals (hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde) down the drain. Subsequently, we see the Park family, struggling to make it hawking cheap food near the Han River, suddenly running for their lives when some mutated eel emerges from the river and starts to kill things.
While Bong has always been interested in monster movies in a sense — whether it’s the lovable, giant pig kind; the serial killer; or the capitalism that grinds us all into the ground — The Host is his only real entry for a “typical” monster movie. And even then, almost immediately he is eschewing expectations, showing us the toxic Han River monster almost immediately, repeatedly and prolongedly. We can not only deduce where it came from but Bong pointedly shows characters throwing trash into the river pre-attack, just to see if the mysterious shadow they see will snap it up. So the stage is set for a fairly clear allegory, like so many monster movies before it, about mankind and its obtuse destruction towards the Earth.
Now, if you’ve seen Parasite you know that the answer about “who is the titular parasite” is not so easy; why would The Host be so clear? No, The Host is deliciously opaque — or maybe it’s incredibly obvious, but ever-shifting. It’s the Americans who came through and encouraged the pollution; it’s the officials who refuse to stick their neck out and rescue the innocent; it’s the family that can’t get its shit together, and the media that feeds off of their sadness. Maybe we’re all a little bit host ourselves to some unpleasantness, is what the film seems to be saying.
The Host is not really what I want to be writing about at this moment. Where I am is back in lockdown — a blessing amidst a curse, maybe — and while the election went the way I wanted I don’t feel anywhere close to out of the woods yet. 2020 has been an incredibly hard year, something we’re all digesting in our own ways, or maybe we’re all just being digested. The grief of this year will linger on far past the ways it has already begun to calcify within us, like a knot in your back that’s already turned crunchy.
Maybe that’s the gift of Bong Joon-ho. He rarely hides what he’s doing, but it’s not always clear what it accomplishes. There’s a lot that feels prescient about The Host — pointed out by everyone and their mums chasing a news peg — but it never feels too much. They quarantine, they wear masks, they question why they’re doing all of this to begin with, and they go to extreme lengths to save their family. In a way, everyone does something wrong, and in a way that’s the most comforting thing I’ve heard in a week where we’re all revisiting what it means to be safe and take precautions during this time.
There are some monsters we can agree on: COVID, capitalism, Republicans, colonialism, pollution. There are others that feel more immediate, that lurk in our sewers and around the corner from us; they’re harder to pin down, things like indifference and blame. I think something that can get overlooked in The Host is that you have to deal with those things too. Sit with those things even when you don’t want to, and maybe you, too, can avoid bringing a mutated river monster to your hometown, is what I’m saying.
Assorted Internet Detritus
Cate: I truly cannot begin to tell you how hectic this week has been, but I am nothing if not a chronic procrastinator, so here's what I read this week when I should have been hacking through my endless pile of emails: first, this piece on why everyone's suddenly hoarding mason jars, this treatise on the gospel of the Fast and Furious franchise and this look at what happens when fandoms have to grapple with the bad behaviour of the actors in the thing they love and lastly, this GQ piece on Hugh Grant's slow move into onscreen villainy.
Zosha: Loved this look at the new season of Big Mouth giving Misty a chance to find her voice. Also enjoyed a chance to learn about Deb Haaland and her influence. This contemplation of how the uprisings in the summer opened up the doors to the outside, "[resurrecting] the dead spaces of cities." Plus: superpowered women be fainting! And to close out my week I am 100% winding my way through this oral history of Burlesque, a movie I have very fond memories of because I watched it with friends over Netflix Party this year. 💜
And all of a sudden, we're at the end of another week! For Issue #29, all's fair (except for J. Edgar Hoover), and we'll be hitting your inboxes in a week with reviews of MLK/FBI and Lover's Rock.
Meditating on the times, but still finding ways to yell about movies.
Zosha + Cate <3