Jared loves Melanie. Melanie loves Jared. Kyle loves Wanda, and Wanda loves Kyle. Only problem: Wanda is an alien parasite living inside Melanie’s head. Oh, the anguish of being a teenage body snatcher in love.
The whole world has been taken over by alien parasites in The Host, glowing jellyfish-like creatures that are inserted into the base of the neck and transform people into friendly, honest, truthful automatons. The horror. They’ve also cleaned up the environment and accomplished world peace in the process.
Seems like a good tradeoff, especially since they don’t actually kill humans – you’re still alive, to some degree, trapped inside your former body, which is now controlled by the alien. The aliens capture the humans through non-violent means, using a knockout gas-loaded spraycan marked “PEACE” in advance of the surgical operation, detailed in the opening moments of the film.
Really, now. How exactly did these creatures – completely docile and defenseless in their native form – manage to overtake the world through entirely non-violent means? But that’s just the first of many head-scratching questions in director Andrew Niccol’s film, which may seem silly on paper but plays out even sillier.
The Host was adapted by Niccol from the bestselling novel by Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series. Aha! That explains the film’s existence. Fans expecting another Twilight are going to leave this one sorely disappointed; even the hokey romance angle is mishandled. Studio execs expecting the launch of another major franchise aren’t gonna be too happy, either.
The central concept is just so…bizarre. An Invasion of the Body Snatchers love story? I liked the none-too-subtle thematic conceits in the Twilight series, the parallels between vampirism and chastity, but I struggled to latch onto anything similar in The Host. As helpless host Melanie tried to deal with alien Wanda using her body for make out sessions with the both boy she (Melanie) loves and the boy Wanda has fallen in love with, all I could come up with was: multiple personality disorder?
Poor Saoirse Ronan, the wonderful young actress so good in Atonement and Hanna: most of The Host consists of scenes involving her having an internal monologue (dialogue?) with her alien body, as Melanie speaks in voiceover and Wanda awkwardly answers in dialogue. I don’t think there was any way to get this right, but the result is often laughable.
Oh, the laughter! Unintentional comedy is what saves this movie from being a complete bore. After Melanie convinces Wanda to take it on the lam to find her lover Jared (Max Irons) and brother Jamie, she crashes her car in the middle of the desert and begins walking into the sunset.
“Walk on the rocks,” Melanie advises herself, “to avoid leaving tracks.” I chortled. Later, the ‘seekers’ arrive and are stumped. “There are no tracks!” This is an alien race that has travelled billions of light years and conquered a dozen planets, but they can’t find this girl because she’s walking on rocks.
These seekers, led by The Seeker (Diane Kruger), aren’t exactly great at seeking. After tracking down the humans for most of the movie, they finally have them on the desert highway. There’s a struggle, and The Seeker picks up a gun and accidentally shoots one of her own.
“No!” the other seekers exclaim. “We are peaceful, this is not like us. Let them go. The humans will die out anyway.” And they let them (slowly) drive away, after chasing them the whole movie. These are the least effective movie villains you will ever see.
“Drama is easy. Comedy is hard.” Science fiction might be even harder. Without the right amount of thought put into the writing, it’s laughable, and The Host is akin to the grade-Z schlock you might catch on Mystery Science Theater 3000; no amount of technical proficiency – which this film certainly has, in most respects, with its metallic sparkling-new sheen and teal & orange palette – can overcome lousy sci-fi writing.
In another lifetime, director Niccol made Gattaca, a genuinely intelligent piece of science fiction. The Host is his cross to bear more than Meyer’s. But it’s the kind of bad movie only a talented filmmaker can make: not the usual by-the-numbers stuff, it’s something especially awful.