A film review by Craig J. Koban April 16, 2013

THE HOST ˝j
 

2013, PG-13, 125 mins.

 

Saoirse Ronan: Melanie / Diane Kruger: The Seeker / Max Irons: Jared / William Hurt: Jeb / Jake Abel: Ian / Frances Fisher: Maggie

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol / Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer

If the intentions of the makers of THE HOST were to make an uproarious comedy, then the resulting film is a spectacular success.  

However, I sincerely doubt that this was their prime goal.  The film comes from the literary mind of Stephenie Meyer (who penned the mega popular TWILIGHT novels, which in turn became an ultra popular film series) and was adapted to the big screen by the competent hand of writer/director Andrew Niccol (who has made films that touched greatness, like GATTACA and LORD OF WAR).  Despite the participation of Niccol, THE HOST emerges as one of the most insipidly envisioned and ineptly handled alien invasion flicks that I’ve seen in many a moon.  And, yes, I’ve seen SKYLINE

My venomous critical crosshairs really want to hone in on Meyer herself, because her novel – based on what I’ve seen in the film – is not only lazily plagiaristic of her own sparkly vampire books (especially in terms of its adolescent focus, its annoyingly angsty love triangle subplots, and its stale and cringe worthy dialogue exchanges), but it also wants to appropriate – with very limited amounts of success - elements of classic sci-fi from films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.  Yet, Meyer is a fish-in-a-barrel easy target, because the New Zealand-born Niccol is also largely to blame, seeing as he has made many sleek, cold tempered, and atmospheric sci-fi films that tapped the imagination; for him to make a film so wholeheartedly miscalculated and wretched such as THE HOST is borderline inexcusable.  

Worse yet is that the film does an absolutely atrocious job with establishing the particulars of the alien invasion, not to mention that the psychological motives and back-story of the extraterrestrial visitors seems to have been delegated to the sidelines altogether.  In the future most of the world’s citizens have been infested by parasitic alien forms (“souls”) that enter the body through a cut in the back of the neck.  Once the alien gets into your body, your personality, soul, and everything that makes you…you…disappears.  Nearly 100 per cent of the population has been converted and the Earth is now a world where disease, sickness, war, famine, etc. have all but been eradicated.  The remaining non-infected people have gone into hiding.  Now, how these rebels have managed to evade such an all-powerful, pervasive, and unstoppable alien force is never explained. 

 

 

One of the humans-on-the-run, Melanie Stryder (the gifted young actress Saoirse Ronan, whose skills are betrayed by the awfulness of this material) is captured near the beginning of the film by a “Seeker” (the alluring Diane Kruger) while trying to keep her younger brother safe.  While captured she becomes the “host” for a “soul” called “Wanderer”, but the soul soon finds out that there are remnants of Melanie’s own soul still lingering around in her noggin.  Melanie manages to escape Seeker’s clutches and finds shelter at her Uncle Jeb’s (a bored as hell William Hurt) hideout, which is an abandoned and hollowed out inactive volcano where massive adjustable solar panels allow them to grow - un-huh - wheat.  Predictably, many residents distrust her, especially a boyfriend from her non-possessed days, Jared (Max Irons), but she slowly wins over their trust, and also catches the eye of another hunky local, Ian (Jake Abel) who seems in love with the essence of Wanderer...and the body of Melanie.  

Oy vey. 

THE HOST has so many scenes of gut-busting and unintentional hilarity that I frankly lost count.  Niccol finds a really lousy way of showing the schizophrenic nature of the Melanie character by having the human soul’s voice show up in a highly intrusive voiceover track that argues and bickers with Wanderer, who verbally speaks in the film.  This all becomes nearly overwhelmingly unbearable within the first few minutes of it occurring, seeing as Melanie’s interior declarations – which are usually comprised of “You can’t kiss him, he’s a human!” or “You wish!” or “Nooooo” or “We must work together!” – become increasingly hysterical by the minute.  Even more guffawing is how the two souls begin to harvest an inexplicable love for one another, which adds a truly weird and unexplored new tangent to the film’s already stale love triangle. 

Now, wait.  If Melanie loves another female soul…does that make her a lesbian…or bisexual…or just curious?  And what does Ian really see in the possessed Melanie?  Why does he fall for an alien soul whose race is responsible for the decimation of the human race?  Maybe because Wanderer has the face of the easy-on-the-eyes Ronan.  How does the act of kissing – which is explained several times in the film – bring out and expand one's soul over the other (when Ian kisses Melanie, Wanderer becomes predominant, whereas when Jared kisses her, Melanie’s essence sticks out)?  And, for Christ's sake, how did a smattering of human beings erect such a vast network of retractable solar mirrors hundreds of feet above them on the volcano walls?  Did they rent tools and a crane from Home Depot? 

I have more questions.  Why did the aliens come to Earth and all of the other planets they have conquered?  What’s their end game?  Also, if they possess humans and totally control them, then why would these “perfect” new hybrid beings need to work, congregate, form relationships, and buy consumer products?  Do these beings procreate and continue the half-breed species?  Also, if beings made of light have the ability to travel across the unfathomable reaches of the universe, why would they want to settle for an earthbound existence in flawed humanoid bodies?  Why do the aliens all wear white and drive silver, bullet proof sports cars?  Did they not leave behind any high-tech modes of transportation from their home world on Earth to use?  Lastly, how can they be so pathetically bad at locating a dozen or so hidden humans when they were so successful at plaguing the rest of human society with such relative ease?  

I received no answers to these questions from the film.

I would say, in closing, that THE HOST also fails at striving for social/political allegory like the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS did with its tale of aliens conquering us, but that would be a dismal understatement.  It simply uses an already feebly constructed invasion premise as an excuse for monotonous and pretentiously hollow-minded teen romance that, in retrospect, makes the werewolf/vampire/human love trainable in TWILIGHT feel like the work of the Bard by comparison.  The biggest sin of THE HOST is how it squanders talent, specifically Ronan (such a presence in films like ATONEMENT and HANNA) and Niccol (who, aside from his aforementioned directorial duties, also penned the script for deeply prophetic THE TRUMAN SHOW in the late 90's).  The film also offers up over two hours of scripting that provides hardly any exposition, explanations, and very little forward narrative momentum and intrigue.  It’s highly fitting that THE HOST is about aliens possessing human minds and bodies, because enduring this film in a theater for a 122 minutes will be a positively soul-sucking stamina test for anyone who dares to partake.   

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