Stephenie Meyer’s post-Twilight film The Host is a highly ambitious sci-fi yarn. It’s the tale of an alien invasion, a benign one at that, and as much as there is the potential to be a great story about rebellion and survival it’s really about life in the aftermath of said invasion. In short, they’ve won so what story is there to tell? It has a complex set-up/backstory, one with fantastically grand world-building yet we only see a very small portion of it. So how can that be engaging? Enter Andrew Niccol, director of equally simple sci-fi films like Gattaca and In Time. Here he lends his visually simple but elegant creative muscle to Meyer’s story and the result is pretty slick piece of science fiction…at first glance.
Seeing the trailers, never a guaranteed formula for determining a quality end product mind you, it looked like The Host could be Twilight 2.0 by
way of Michael Bay and therefore appeal to females as well as males in this all or nothing fight to save humanity. Yet here’s the rye twist. In The Host, humanity has already been saved…by the alien life forms who have taken us over. Yet it’s not oppression, or even indentured servitude. They have saved us from ourselves and our harsh and destructive ways. In a way they’re the good guys even though by “saving us” they have taken control of every facet of our existence; our livelihoods and the decision making part of our psyche.
But a few lone humans (William Hurt, Max Irons and Jake Abel) quietly rebel against the aliens even if the aliens presence resulted in a docile, effective and fully functioning Utopia. No war, no disease, all they ask (or take by “body snatching” us) is for us to be a willing “host” for the alien “soul” (a benevolent entity that has been essentially policing all manner of life across the galaxy). The main characters are in hiding from the alien police, including one renegade Seeker (Diane Kruger), and yet seem to have a very efficient way of surviving. So it stands that aside from Kurger’s hell-bent character using Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) as a mole, these humans are not as endangered as we’re led to believe. Moreover they have sufficient technology to survive (William Hurt’s stone refuge is really pretty cool).
So how can/do they fight back? Well that’s one of the things the story never gets around to resolving in a satisfying manner. In short, they don’t and it’s disappointing because one cannot help but think of so many other alien invasion films that pose legitimate threats and get the audience involved because those characters have real stakes in the game. V, They Live, Independence Day, even Invasion of the Body Snatchers get pulses racing, but this is DOA for all 125 dry minutes.
One might argue that’s not what most of this story is about, but it’s what we all want to see and we just don’t get it. Further there’s the question of “what gives “souls” the right to police other species and fix things?” that would have helped give the premise more weight. But that’s not explored either. Pity. That said The Host strives for originality by telling a love story set against a semi-interesting sci-f i back drop. But with so little going on and things taking forever just to get moving the story is just not worth the time. It’s an overlong drama that you want be over not very long after the undramatic drama starts. Being slow with no end goal in sight makes it feel even longer. The only real life that is breathed into this film is the final sequence (a paltry 90 seconds) and the end credits song by Imagine Dragons. Niccol tries to make everything look cool and intriguing but there’s no substance to anything.
Niccols, by way of Meyers’ story, attempts to offer something original with the idea that Saoirse Ronan plays two characters (the human Melanie Stryker and the alien soul Wanderer, or Wanda) fighting over the same host body and each one is in love with one of the two male leads. Taking the “love triangle” that was used ad nauseum in the Twilight series, The Host gives us a “love rectangle” (those proclaiming it’s a “love box” take note, that might conjure up the wrong idea…just saying) and it’s a little awkward when 2 parts of this 4 part young love debacle are essentially the same person, save for the voice-over from the Melanie Stryder locked away in Wanda. Ronan is the wrong choice for the character but still not likely anyone could have given the film what it lacks; at the very least give us something with a pulse.
No bones about it, The Host is a film for fans of the novel and that’s about it. Good luck finding an audience who cares about these characters who didn’t already care about them in Meyers’ novel because Niccol and company do nothing to make anyone compelling or endearing. Even viewing it as a “love story” The Host just falls on its face while missing every opportunity to strike just one emotional chord. You want an original love story, then see Warm Bodies which works in every way this doesn’t. When the story and filmmakers fail to connect with the audience and many of whom, including females, start laughing at the schmoozy love-themed dialog no amount of Niccol’s platinum-plated sports cars can make up for it. The Host falls somewhere between being entertaining and being a distraction but doesn’t hit either of those marks.