‘The Host”s Conflicted Valley Girl

Based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling novel, The Host is yet another proof that Hollywood will try to turn literally anything into a movie. Meyer of Twilight fame, has wrought yet another insipid romance involving humans and a different species (aliens in this case), if only to prove that she’s actually capable of selling rights to her Danielle Steele by way of Stephen King pseudo-literature and that audiences will still eat it up. It’s a sad realization of where our culture is, and an infuriating reminder that we have to start demanding that the industry makes better movies.

It’s a shame that The Host is so terrible, because it’s directed by Andrew Niccol (who also wrote the screenplay), the mastermind behind the criminally underrated Gattaca, which was one of the best science fiction movies of the last 20 years. It seems that in adapting Meyer’s book, Niccol’s creative juices were drained by the studio’s money making pressures and the adaptation is so uninspired and lacking, that it makes us wish we were reading the book, instead.

Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan plays Melanie Stryder, a courageous young woman trying to stop an alien invasion… or something like that. The scene is supposed to be set during a time when body snatching aliens have invaded the planet, taken over human bodies and are working to eradicate the last remaining human beings. The thing is that once they take over you (through a strange procedure), your human soul vanishes, yet in Melanie’s case, she remains behind and the body ends up being occupied by her and the alien whom she calls Wanderer. Most of the film’s running time is spent as Wanderer and Melanie engage in a Gollum-like discourse; one trying to save her loved ones, the other trying to find the humanity that might exist in her.

Hot on their heels they have the Seeker (Diane Kruger) a ruthless alien agent whose purpose is to find one of the last remaining pockets of humans. At some point during the movie, Melanie and Wanderer run into one of the groups, but instead of turning it into a quasi-Exodus, the movie has both “characters” fall in love with different beefcakes. This too, could’ve been interesting to see if the characters’ dilemmas were slightly more complex, but instead, when the movie ends, we are convinced that this particular kind of alien invader would pretty much turn everyone into a conflicted valley girl. It certainly doesn’t help that most of the movie we’re forced to listen to Melanie and Wanderer fight inside Melanie’s head, as the characters around them make funny faces and agree she needs a therapist more than an alien exorcism.

When you have a cast that includes William Hurt, Frances Fisher, Kruger and especially Ronan, it’s very disappointing to find yourself watching a movie where you struggle to know what’s happening because you simply don’t care anymore. If this is the reason why Meyer named the character Wanderer, then it’s a clever tongue in cheek thing, but to even suggest this is trying too hard to make sense of a story that reduces all its characters to clichés.

It’s sad to see Ronan being so wasted, especially when she still somehow manages to be interesting to watch. We actually see her acting and making an effort to make sense of the nonsense she’s made to say and do, but other than proving that she definitely has leading lady material, this is a disappointment in a career that promised so much. Comparisons to Twilight abound and somehow those movies feel better than this, because even the leading men are dull here. We get Jake Abel and Max Irons making Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner feel like Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine…

Perhaps it sounds unfair to be so harsh on a movie that promised very little to begin with, but this is done with the intention of making us ask ourselves what will it take for us as a society to snap out of the mediocrity we’re being fed on a daily basis? Why do we have to wait for endless teenage romances where an earthling falls for an exotic creature? Why can’t they at least try to tweak the formula a bit? By the time we get the next Twilight we won’t even be able to determine when did one saga ended and the next one began. When did escapism become synonymous with mental numbing?

The Host is presented in a wonderful HD transfer which allows for DP Roberto Schaefer’s work to look just great, but even his pretty lighting schemes aren’t enough to make the movie bearable. Bonus features include a bunch of deleted scenes, a making of documentary and feature commentary with Meyer, Niccol and producer Nick Wechsler, who all seem to be watching a different movie than the one we’re presented with.

RATING 3 / 10