If The Host, the new sci-fi/romance film based on a book by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, is representative of the current state of sci-fi or romance, both genres are in big trouble. As a film, The Host is hamstrung by a script with tin-eared dialogue, awful line readings and so-so (at best) special effects. Worst of all, the film’s sodden pacing gives viewers plenty of time to think about similar - albeit far superior - films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (creepy and effective) and The Hidden (fun and propulsive).
Here, the human race is on the ropes, and its remaining survivors aren’t putting up much of a fight against their alien interlopers. The otherwordly beings, which resemble a cluster of wispy, glowing strands of white hair, take over human bodies and enlist them as carriers.
It’s the eyes that give the aliens away: the irises of host bodies glow green. It’s those whose eyes don’t take on that hue who are suspect, since they’re part of the diminishing human resistance to the alien takeover, and they need to be snuffed out.
Melanie (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones) is one of the few human souls who can resist the symbiotic organisms. She’s made an uneasy peace with her alien inhabitant, who goes by the name Wanderer. They represent two lives, and two minds, in one human body, and the way the film treats this is the source of much painful laughter. Scene after scene depicts Melanie staring past the camera as we hear the internal dialogue between her human self and Wanderer.
The story follows Melanie’s efforts to reunite with the human resistance, which includes her younger brother (Chandler Canterbury, Little Red Wagon), her boyfriend (Max Irons, Red Riding Hood) and her uncle (William Hurt, The Village), while trying to shake a suspicious alien overseer (Diane Kruger, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) waiting for Melanie to spill the beans about the location of the resisters. Once she does, the aliens will make short work of the human "rebels" and take another step toward world domination.
Although the film is ostensibly about the extinction of the human race, the story's big payoff scenes have more to do with when and how many times the attractive young leads will kiss each other. Those of us who aren't part of the film's target demo (teenage girls; cf. Meyer's Twilight) have to concentrate on other elements of the film— its beautiful Southwestern locations and a supporting performance by Hurt that’s so grounded and effortless it seems to have come from a different movie—to gain any fleeting pleasure from The Host.
Director Andrew Niccol was the man behind Gattaca, one of the best sci-fi films of the last 20 years, and the skilled writer behind Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. Here he's adapting a novel by Meyer, and there’s only so much he can do with the source material.
Then there's Ronan, so memorable as Briony Tallis in Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel Atonement. Meyer’s dialogue is several steps below McEwan’s, so the actress strains under her leaden lines in The Host. Intentionally funny remarks got expected laughs during a press screening of the film, but other Ronan utterances generated unwanted chuckles.
Two hours after it starts, The Host ends with a whimper. It doesn’t give us anything to think about, nor is it even mildly diverting. It takes over our lives for a short time, then, like the human bodies its alien protagonists use for their own purposes, leaves us feeling hollowed out and used up for no good purpose. Watching it, your eyes won't change color, but they’ll likely glaze over.
- Language/Profanity: “Oh, God”; “full of it”; “what the hell”; “sorry a-s”
- Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: None
- Sex/Nudity: Several scenes of passionate kissing; a character says to another, “Sleep with me”; Wanderer bathes, seen only from the shoulders up; characters have sex under the sheets, with the woman’s bra covering her breasts; a woman commands a man, “Kiss me like you want to get slapped!”
- Violence/Crime: An unsuccessful suicide attempt; an off-screen suicide by gunshot; knife to the throat; a headbutt; a slap; machetes; guns and gunfire; punching and fist fights; a boy cuts his leg; man shot in the head, and his body is shown, with blood on the floor near his head; a woman is hit and attacked by a man; a gunshot to the shoulder; self-inflicted knife wounds
- Religion/Morals: Under alien occupation, Earth is said to be at peace, with no hunger or violence; the environment is healed, and honesty, courtesy and kindness are practiced by all; aliens say they do not lie, and that they trust each other, to which Melanie says, “You guys take the fun out of everything”; a character exclaims, “Hallelujah!” Forgiveness offered
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Publication date: March 29, 2013
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