Film review: The Host

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Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan choose love over alien invasion in the big screen version of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. Image: Open Road Films Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan choose love over alien invasion in the big screen version of Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. Image: Open Road Films

Highly resistant: The Host captures everything but the moviegoers’ attention

The Host, the latest in a long line of Stephenie Meyer-written heavy-breathers, is absurd. It’s so absurd it’s hard to take seriously. But let’s try. How many times do we get to deconstruct overproduced and underwritten stories of teen lust—if lust stops at kissing?

Aliens that look like glowing white caterpillars with sparkly tendrils have invaded Earth. The aliens enter humans through the back of the neck, merge with the human host, and eventually take over the body while the personality of the host lies dormant or dies. The only physical change in humans seems to be glowing eyes.

Forget that this story recalls not only Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but also Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters and John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?—better known to most people as Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World or John Carpenter’s The Thing. Because, really, this story is about liking boys. And Jesus, sort of.

And another thing: When did the film industry decide that all aliens must be boring? They come to Earth. They take over. Then they either kill us (which happens in The Host) or turn the planet into some utopian/dystopian fantasy (which also happens in The Host).

So aliens can travel millions of light years across the galaxy, and all they want to do is kill us? Or take over? If they have the technology for intergalactic space travel, why must their goals be so mundane? Why can’t they use that technology on Earth? The vistas of New Mexico—prominently on display in The Host—are beautiful. But worth crossing time and space?

Similar thoughts may occupy moviegoers older than 13 during The Host’s first hour. There’s so little going on (under the guise of OMG there’s so much going on!) that the mind wanders.

The only thing that jolts the mind back into the cineplex is an unfortunate choice by the filmmakers. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) has been captured and an alien implanted in her. But Melanie’s a fighter. And her soul lives on in her body, even as an alien called The Wanderer takes control.

That unfortunate choice is to have Melanie’s thoughts argue, via reverb-filled voiceover, with The Wanderer, who speaks aloud in response. It’s a laughably bad choice, distracting even, and Ronan isn’t done any favors talking (and voiceovering) Meyer’s dialogue, which at least has been streamlined by director Andrew Niccol.

But Ronan has the makings of a star, and she plays the Melanie/Wanderer roles earnestly, as if she believes the choice they have to make—between two boys, of course, and the planet, sort of—are serious things and not the fantasy of an inexplicably popular novelist. Ronan is so good, at times she may even make you gasp.

The rest is poppycock. William Hurt, as Melanie’s uncle, seems lost. Diane Kruger, as an evil alien, has one good scene (her last). The guys? Snooze. Niccol (Gattaca) has a gift for science fiction, but The Host is still gushy and childish. If only there were pods. Or shape-shifters. Or vampires.

The Host/PG-13, 121 minutes.Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

 

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