The Host was a tough flick for me to gather my feelings for and come to a strong opinion after viewing. It’s a perplexing mix of young adult schlock and high concept thought-provoking science fiction bundled into a beautifully shot film. The Host is based on the novel by infamous Twilight author (and Arizona native) Stephenie Meyer, which instantly makes bile rise in the throats of many reviewers, but was written for the screen and directed by the talented Andrew Niccol. This clash of talent levels results in a consistently frustrating film that was almost excellent and also almost terrible.
In the world of The Host, the Earth has been invaded by parasitic aliens that overtake the population, save a few humans here and there that are still on the run. Infected or inhabited hosts are recognizable through a glowing light blue ring around the pupils of their eye, an unexpectedly beautiful and subtle effect used throughout the film. But here’s the rub that makes this film different: while the human minds are forced to take a back seat with no control, the aliens remake the planet into a peaceful, safe place and basically save our planet. From us. Sure, free will and strong emotional ties are gone, but the Earth itself is better off and a thriving organic society exists. It’s just boring.
Saoirse Ronan (Hanna) plays Melanie Stryder, a recently inhabited human who has the force of will to fight her possessor and occasionally regain control for brief moments. Ronan is quite good in this one and avoids being a Bella Swan type character, even though she does have the occasional clunky line delivery. The two minds become so connected that the alien entity dubbed “Wanderer” begins to become empathetic with Melanie’s memories and wants to return with her to her loved ones, one of whom is her uncle Jeb (excellent portrayed by William Hurt), who anchors the film and puts an emotional center to the story.
Of course, there has to be romantic conflict and Melanie/Wanderer find themselves out in the desert hiding out with Jeb’s surrogate family, which includes Melanie’s boyfriend Jared (Max Strong) and Wanderer’s new love interest Ian (Jake Abel). Yes, this is where the almost terrible/almost brilliant comes into play. I believe here we have the first “love square” in film history. Two entities in one body, each in love with a different man. The script does some interesting things and has some fun with this concept, but it gets borderline creepy and downright silly at times. Regardless, they get a tip of the hat for the unique idea.
Hiring writer-director Andrew Niccol was the best thing that could have happened to the source material. His hand is felt firmly throughout the film, guiding it away from being the next Beautiful Creatures or Twilight rip-off, and instead does what he does best: introducing some fairly deep sci-fi ideas while have striking shots of very sharp clean designs and environments. Not to say this film doesn’t have an abundance of cheese-laden tween romance, but that’s not all the film is about, and Niccol makes this a good helping of substance along with the fluff.
The biggest detriment to the film is the slow-burn storytelling Niccol loves to employ, but in this film it doesn’t have the payoff a slow-burn requires. If I’m not making it clear enough let me help: this is a slooooooow film. All that implied action in the excellent trailers is all you get in The Host. There is no climactic battle, punches thrown or explosions to be seen in the film’s third act, yet somehow the finale is still oddly satisfying. You can see why I’m conflicted.
The Host is not nearly as bad as it could have been, but also not nearly as good as the film convinces the audience it might be. The cast falters here and there but is overall fairly solid, and the story has some unique and thought-provoking premises. It’s not often you get a high concept sci-fi trope based off a tween romance novel and I’m not sure we’ll get anything like this again soon. The Host makes a noble effort to be a lofty thinker of a film while still trying to satisfy its romance-hungry demographic, but audiences are most likely going to exit the theater with the same perplexing mix of emotions.
The aliens are complex and arguably justified. Beautiful locations and crisp shots. Lots of thought-provoking ideas. William Hurt.
Pointless romantic flashbacks. Sloooooooow. Devoid of any real action or physical conflict.
A definite cut above in artistic quality over normal young adult romance but frustratingly short of being a really good film.