‘The Host’ Review
Cartesian Dualism lights up the screen in ‘The Host‘ as Saoirse Ronan‘s alien-possessed soul loudly thinks, “don’t you smile at him! Uch! You are not goin’ there!” Then she leans to smooch #TeamIan. And who said there was nothing deep happening in mainstream cinema?
Before I dive into all sorts of specifics about ‘The Host’s’ unique and strange qualities, it is important that I be very upfront about something: the movie stinks. It fails as science-fiction, it fails as romance, it fails as adventure, as drama and every other box you may want to put it in. The instigating concept is half-baked, the world-building is nonexistent, the dialogue is atrocious, the performances are soporific and many of the stylistic choices are inelegant to the point of being grating.
And yet… and yet… I’m glad I saw ‘The Host,’ and more so than just as an anthropological study to “see what the fuss is about” as with the ‘Twilight‘ films. (Disclosure: I couldn’t make it past the third one, which, yes, I’ve been told, is when they start getting good.) This newest adaptation of a Stephenie Meyer novel from ‘Gattaca’ and ‘In Time’ director Andrew Niccol is so deliberate in curious details that it’s hard to watch it and not have something resembling a good time. As teachers often reminded me in grade school, however, there’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.”
We open with a cursory bit of exposition. World peace has been achieved. That’s good. It came, however, because all of humanity has been possessed by space aliens. That’s bad.
Well, most of humanity. A few holdouts have managed to avoid the glowing, floaty jellyfish that subcutaneously insert themselves into the “host” bodies of humans and change them into calm, truthful wearers of crisp white suits.
Yet, we don’t learn anything about how their society continues to function. There appears to be no economy (products are simply made available at places like “Store”) but someone is laboring to get those products on the shelves (and gas in the car to drive there, etc.). Normally I’d be the first one to shun those who ask too many “but, why?” questions in a science-fiction film, however there isn’t even a thread to hold onto in ‘The Host.’
Director Andrew Niccol’s attention seems elsewhere, like on the fastidious art direction. The clothes, shoes, hair, furniture, computer monitors, cars and helicopters in ‘The Host’ are all striking. (When the amorphous jellyfish landed, they brought a love of sleek chrome and tapered white coats with them.) There isn’t too much in the way of action or special effects, but Niccol has a way of filling the frame with remarkable compositions. When the figures open their mouths, though, look out.
The few humans that haven’t been occupied are living as fugitives in a surprisingly well-maintained complex of mountains and caves. (It resembles the line-up halls for a Disney World ride.) Since Saoirse Ronan’s character, Melanie Stryder, is such a fighter her mental fortitude is able to convince her possessor (Wanderer) to leave and try and find her extended family. Along the way (and throughout the film) Melanie and Wanderer talk to one another through really annoying voiceover. If ever there was an example of something that may work in a book but not in film, this is it.
When they get to Sanctuary, the chase gives way to a rather familiar Meyer trope — choosing a boyfriend. A number of indistinguishable sandy blonde men are sporting rifles and husking grain, but it soon comes down to Max Irons’ Jared (Ronan’s pre-possession beau) and Jake Abel (Ian) who swears he is in love with the “new” girl — with Wanderer.
“If you could hold me in your hand, you’d be disgusted” is just one of the howlers poor Saoirse Ronan has to try and say with a straight face. In the end, chaste love wins out for all involved, as does the difficult decision of what to do with the alien when it wants to give Melanie her body back.
For those who like to poke fun at bad movies, ‘The Host’ offers some opportunities. But as with even the worst of, say, ‘Star Trek Voyager’ (whose second season episode “Tuvix” has some similarities to ‘The Host’) there is a kernel of an interesting idea here. Aren’t we all fighting a mind/body split? And when should mankind (or an individual) give himself over to a clearly stronger, pacifying force, and when should it fight?
Somewhere past the flaccid love story and inane plot (I’ve spared you the whole evil Diane Kruger storyline) there are flashes — voices from within, if you will — that say, “Hey, some of this is kinda interesting.”
‘The Host’ premieres in theaters this Friday, March 29.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.