While there are plenty of other film series out there that like to pretend to be the next incarnation of Twilight (as if that is something to aspire to), writer/director Andrew Niccol has the dubious honor of making the true follow up to that infamous series written by the Twilight saga scribe herself, Stephenie Meyer.
Niccol’s new film The Host takes the tween romance angle we all love to hate, removes the supernatural elements, and replaces it with a sci-fi hook. With the help of seasoned sci-fi director like Niccol (Gattaca) at the helm and a cast of young twenty-somethings that, unlike in Meyer’s previous series, seem to have a grasp on that little thing called acting, this “new” direction for her tried and true love triangle formula isn’t nearly the train wreck most were expecting it to be, but don’t take that as this being anything more than a mediocre endeavor at best. Read the full review after the break.
Earth has been invaded by aliens, and we have lost the war. Parasitic alien lifeforms known as “souls” have colonized the planet by using humans as their vessels (aka hosts). Outnumbered a million to one, the last remnants of humanity have retreated to the deserts in hopes of either outlasting their enemy or finding a way to vanquish them. Their hopeless fight for survival is given an extra boost however when one of their own, a girl named Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), is taken captive and has a soul implanted into her by the name of The Wanderer, a soul that has lived for over a millennium. While most souls usually take complete control of their host, Melanie won’t go without a fight and forces her subconscious to influence The Wanderer to do her bidding. Soon Melanie has forced her occupier to leave the city in search of her family and when they arrive it sparks a whole new beginning for mankind and the possible downfall for the alien race that has driven them into hiding.
The strongest thing The Host has going for it from the get go is everything that doesn’t revolve around forbidden romances or people staring longingly into each others eyes. The premise for the film is an intriguing bit of fiction. A world hopelessly overrun by an alien invader isn’t exactly original material, as there are some very heavy influences from the sci-fi/horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Meyer finds some interesting new ways to freshen up the material. These aren’t creatures hiding under our beds waiting to copy us and disintegrate our remains, these are more peaceful invaders.
The first and most significant change is how the invading alien souls are represented as these passive creatures that can only be introduced into a human host in an almost loving or nurturing way. It may sound a little hokey (which it is), but Niccol finds a way to sell it without ever becoming too silly a concept. The first time we see a soul implanted into a human host is an extremely tranquil experience. Not only are the souls themselves these fragile creatures that fit in the palm of your hand, but they aren’t completely without remorse. They aren’t so much interested in the destruction of mankind as they are in living in a symbiotic relationship with their human host that from their perspective is what the constantly waring human race needed.
The only actual threatening force the aliens have at their disposal are their own form of police called “Seekers”. These special hosts are given the arduous task of locating any and all human refugees so that they may be become host to a soul. With souls showing up through their nifty traveling system all the time, they are always in need of new hosts and the seekers are the only ones on the job. Their jobs are not to inflict pain or harm, but to capture and retain. Only when the one particular seeker (Diane Kruger) chasing Melanie shoots down one of her own on accident do we realize how adverse to violence they really are.
All of this actually begs the question then of how these aliens were ever able to take over our planet if they don’t seem inclined to use violence to win their battles. It’s even more perplexing when you learn that these tiny glowing tentacle-like creatures have conquered over 12 other worlds prior to Earth which seems rather unlikely given the evidence provided. How they took over Earth isn’t really a major concern though, just a nagging oversight brought on by the relative obtuse nature of the aliens themselves.
Where it all comes crumbling down, however, is a mixture of Meyer’s incessant need to inject this forced love triangle into the mix, a total lack of dramatic weight and a lot of unintentional laughter brought on by some extremely awkward moments. Twilight had its share of problems and has taken an inordinate amount of punishment from its detractors for its poorly constructed love triangle, but that film series was about one girl and the two idiots who loved her. Here there is more at stake than just one girl, the alien called The Wanderer who possessed her (who they refer to as Wanda) and the two ridiculously handsome young men, Jared (Max Irons) and Ian (Jake Abel) who fawn over both of them.
The human race is going extinct, and even though Melanie/Wanda is the catalyst for instigating change (which the ending reveals was never as unique as it was made out to be), Melanie/Wanda’s personal relationships, while needed in some capacity, should never take center stage as often as they do. Meyer should get some credit though for not making the entire film about those relationships and even an accolade or two for how she mixes her own formula up during its final moments, but until she realizes that relationships in these larger than life stories are there to support the characters and give them purpose instead of it being the other way around, her stories will never reach their true potential.
There is potentially fascinating material to be mined here with our world under control by these creatures who want to act like us, use our machines, build our world and make it better, but it all plays second fiddle to the love story, which is a shame. The more we learn about these creatures, the more interesting they become, like how they apparently never lie to one another. Instead, we are treated to scenes such as when Jared and Ian need to discover who is currently in control of Melanie’s body by using a kissing game which is likely one of the silliest scenes in recent film history.
All of this can be forgiven or at the very least accepted though. As painful as the poorly scripted dialog can be, as banal and uninteresting as the relationships can be, it all pales in comparison to how horribly realized the voiceovers are for Melanie. Since Melanie’s body is under the control of Wanda, only Wanda has the ability to speak and only she can hear Melanie in her head talking to her. However, we the audience are privy to the constant stream of poorly delivered voiceover by Melanie. Saoirse Ronan is a fine actress but as Meyer’s writing often does, it makes a good actor just look bad.
Voiceovers are usually a reliable storytelling device, but only when used in small doses. Here it is an often grating experience that lasts throughout the entire movie. It is made even worse whenever Wanda is in the middle of a romantic situation and instead of being in the moment, the audience is ripped right out it as soon as Melanie’s annoyingly shrill voice comes through the speakers and says such compelling dialogue as, “No, don’t you go there!” in regards to Wanda kissing the wrong boy.
The Host isn’t as bad as the Twilight movies, but it is still a far cry from a satisfying film. Its few positive features such as the unique alien creatures, the battling duality between host and alien, and the surprisingly strong cast are outweighed by some nagging issues with the film’s mythology, far too much time focused on who loves who, and one of the worst implementations of a voiceover in recent film history that often results in unintentional laughter or total indifference. There was plenty of potential with the concept but with Meyer on writing duties there was never much hope that potential would ever be met.
Regardless of your feelings towards Meyer’s work and her inclination to appeal to teenage girls around the world by using genres we geeks hold close to our hearts and desecrating them with a total lack of respect for their roots, her newest creation at least demonstrates that she is learning that maybe not everything in a story should be about a young girl having two hot dudes fighting over her. While those tendencies still show up every now and then to derail the film’s momentum and render it dramatically inert, this is still a moderately entertaining film filled with intermittent moments of eye rolling followed by a resounding sigh.