Review: The Host
The Host stars Saoirse Ronan as Melanie and also as Wanderer, an alien “Soul” who has taken over Melanie’s body. This would be special except that almost every human being on the planet has been taken over in the exact same way. The only difference, as near as we can tell, is that Melanie’s consciousness lingers on inside of Wanderer, yelling complaints and requests at her alien hijacker from the inside of a Hollywood recording studio, “MST3K”-ing her way through her own turgid story without any of the wit or insight found in a typical episode of “MST3K.” Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Wanderer, experiencing the world through a secondhand body and combating an unwanted influence in the back of her mind. As Melanie, she’s more stranded than the character herself, willing tedious motivation onto a character of far more interest than the heroine inside.
The Host is the latest novel from Stephenie Meyer that A) has been made into a movie, and B) I have not read. I have come to experience all of her storytelling predilections and thematic undercurrents through the veil of mostly talented filmmakers who can’t seem to bring the author’s stories to any kind of meaningful life. The Twilight movies had intriguing notions as far as a supernatural love triangle is concerned, but remained listless until a Cronenbergian penultimate installment, and a bombastic finale that – I have been repeatedly assured – had no presence in the original novel. The Host similarly focuses its attentions on a strange romantic cobweb, the possibilities of which are endless and much pondered, that fails to create any forward momentum despite what would in other hands be a typical, but thrilling sci-fi story.
Wanderer’s situation is an aberration amongst the Souls, we are told, and a “Seeker” (Diane Kruger), whose job is seeking out the last few uninhabited humans, decides to use Wanderer’s ailment to delve into Melanie’s memories and uncover the location of one of the last human compounds. Melanie finally comes to an understanding with Wanderer and they go – sigh deeply now – on the run from an alien force with a penchant for chrome paintjobs on fast cars and helicopters. In the earlier days of science fiction cinema, silver was often used in production design because it would be an uncommon color in the present day, and because it was pretty darned cheap to do. The Host doesn’t appear to have been cheap, as a production at least, and the rampant shininess appears to have been a low-key, ineffectual attempt to make this lifeless world seem vaguely interesting. Although it is funny that the Souls, who have little personality and thus no interest in variety, shop in giant buildings marked simply “STORE.”
Wanderer eventually stumbles into the human hideout in the mountains of the desert, where Melanie’s boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) beats up on her and another young hunk named Ian (Jake Abel) falls for the alien inside her instead. Jared doesn’t realize that Melanie is still in there, and thinks he’s only harming the invading Soul, but the imagery is still unpleasant. Also unpleasant is the notion that Ian’s love for Wanderer, renamed “Wanda” by Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt), can only be acted upon through a body that has been promised to Jared. The obvious promise of freaky sex is never fulfilled, although someone – perhaps Meyer, perhaps writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) – keeps on teasing it anyway. The phrase “Kiss me like you want to get slapped” sounds equally camp in and out of context, and a sequence where both Ian and Jared take turns kissing Wanderer to get a rise out of Melanie’s subconscious is divertingly and amusingly kink.
The real tragedy here isn’t the occupation of Melanie’s form, or the futile dreams of humanity that Wanderer develops over time. The real tragedy is that The Host never seems to have any fun. The world that the Souls create for themselves on our planet is lifeless and dull, and the world that the humans have created for themselves isn’t much better. The sterile silver color scheme barely registers against the equally drab palette of browns. The Souls’ lack of personal expression seems neither better nor worse than the human cast’s rolodex of solemnity, wistfulness and downtrodden paranoia. The plot takes a vacation for half the film so all the young pretty people can make goo-goo eyes at each other, and when it finally does come back around it’s with an anticlimactic message of tolerance and love. It’s as good a message as any, if you don’t mind that it’s trite, but it’s conveyed with little passion and even less incident. The Host is boring, but at least it’s preachy.
The Host ends with the grotesque abandonment of its own principles, “heroically” stripping the free will from an individual for the selfish desires of another, even though that’s exactly the kind of behavior this movie was protesting. Apparently it’s okay to discard your film’s basic principles as long as the audience isn’t challenged, and a sequel can still seem immediately imminent. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting very excited about the next one of these movies. The rebellion can escalate all it wants, but if the enemy doesn’t seem to care very much one way or the other, the suspense will stay exactly the same: pretty darned minimal.
The Host lacks the adolescent foolishness that made Twilight even remotely relatable, and it isn’t even bad enough to be fun. It’s the kind of film you’d expect from a marquee that reads “MOVIE,” and storytellers who would call themselves “MEH.”
William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel, co-host of The B-Movies Podcast, co-star of The Trailer Hitch, and the writer of The Test of Time. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.