The Host (2013)

5 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The young-adult novel “The Host” was yet another attempt from Stephenie Meyer to tell a story about true love conquering all even in the most surreal (and supernatural) of struggles. That’s what she presented with the “Twilight” books (which inspired the “Twilight” movies), which was about a sadomasochistic girl and a brooding vampire boy risking everything to be together. And then she followed with “The Host,” which is more like a teenage version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in that most of humanity is controlled by alien parasites, and the main characters are mostly young people (in love, of course). Now that the series of “Twilight” adaptations are finished, it was inevitable that the other Meyer young-adult novel would be adapted for a film to cash in on that “craze” (if you will). That of course is the science-fiction teen-romance of the same name, “The Host.”

As the movie opens, we learn that most of the human race has been assimilated by an alien race—a species of parasites called “Souls” that enter a body though a slit in the neck and take over. (The only giveaway side-effects is that the eyes are now glowing-blue and, for some reason, everyone is required to wear white suits.) This way, the humans are dying out, and the aliens are spreading with their bodies and identities.

A small resistance of surviving humans includes teenage Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) who is captured by a “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) while on a looting mission with her brother and boyfriend. She leads them away from her brother and boyfriend, but gets captured after an accident and becomes the “host” for an alien named Wanderer. But because Melanie was still alive when her body was invaded, she still lingers, imprisoned in her own mind. Wanderer can hear Melanie’s voice, and the two often struggle for control. When Seeker can’t get the information she needs to find the whereabouts of Melanie’s family and friends, she decides insert her own Soul into Melanie’s body and gain the information herself. With Melanie’s help, Wanderer escapes and travels to the desert to find the rebellion group Melanie was with.

Soon enough, they’re united with Melanie’s younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury, “Knowing”), Melanie’s boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), and Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), who is the smartest person in the entire movie. (The movie even takes a crack at his intelligence a couple times.) They are all part of a rebellion that hides in a cavernous home from patrollers in helicopters and search cars. Of course no one, except Uncle Jeb (like I said, smart guy), believes that Wanderer is on their side. But she manages to gain trust from some of them, and even convinces a few of them, especially Jamie and Jared, that Melanie is still around.

In the meantime, Wanderer (who gains the nickname of “Wanda”) develops a life of her own, becoming part of the group and falling for Ian (Jake Abel). This of course leads to complications, and a most bizarre love triangle. Or is a love rectangle? We have Melanie and Wanda in one body, but we have Jared hoping to start things over with Melanie and Ian who wants to be with Wanda. And whenever Jared wants to kiss Melanie, she’s really kissing Wanda who occupies Melanie’s body; and whenever Ian kisses Wanda, Melanie is disgusted and attempts to push him away by gaining control of her own body. Now, if that sounds the least bit ridiculous, it basically is ridiculous. But that’s not basically the problem here. The main problem is that while the movie spends so much time with this (and to the movie’s credit, there is no boring jealous rage boiling between both young men), you never feel like you know anything about either Jared or Ian. They’re just two strapping young lads with little to no personality, and I didn’t really feel any chemistry between Melanie/Wanda and either of them.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca,” “In Time”) seems to be trying hard to make “The Host” into a good movie. You can feel that effort was put into the making of this adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s novel. But as I hear he’s also very faithful to the source material (as far as I heard; I never read the novel in the first place), there lies the problem here. If the novel’s dialogue is as hokey and embarrassingly bad as in the screenplay (lines include “It’s not me you want, it’s this body”), then my notion is that this could’ve been improved if it was rewritten as a different story. That’s because as the dialogue is clumsy, the narrative structure is also awkward. The story seems to jump all over the place, particularly evident when we’re dealing with Seeker and her persistent search for Wanda and the resistance. OK, I guess it is interesting how Seeker discovering her dark side with this invasion (and by the way, it’s funny how no one else seemed to bring that up all this time), as she does start to feel guilt after making a few mistakes in finding what she wants. But Seeker doesn’t have enough significant screen time to make it really amount to anything—there are hardly any compelling issues to sense here. It leads to a flat resolution as a result.

I mentioned that Niccol put some effort into this film, and there are some scenes that are quite effective, such as when Jamie shows Wanda his secret cave with a thousand glowworms that make the cave wall look like the night sky. That’s a nice scene, and there are some other pleasant scenes in which Wanda interacts with the people in the caves. I can’t help but feel how this would have been if Niccol just removed the Meyer material and told a story using the same premise, because while it’s not entirely original, it is admittedly engaging.

What really makes “The Host” at least watchable is Saoirse Ronan as Melanie/Wanda. Having been from the big screen for about two years, she still proves to be one of the best young actresses of this generation. She’s very good here, though hardly anyone else is of the same strength. Diane Kruger is dreadfully miscast as Seeker; Max Irons and Jake Abel do what they’re required to do (which is to say not much); William Hurt doesn’t even seem to be trying for credibility as Uncle Jeb.

So while I can’t say “The Host” is a terrible movie, I can’t say it’s really that good. Let me put it this way—it’s more mediocre than it is godawful. It could have been a lot worse. It has some interesting ideas for dramatic tension in its subject matter, but the film is so one-note that it robs it much opportunity.

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