By DAN METCALF
Clipper film correspondent
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence.
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Jake Abel, Max Irons, Chandler Canterbury, Frances Fisher, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Boyd Holbrook, Scott Lawrence, Lee Hardee, Phil Austin, Raeden Greer, Alexandria Morrow, Emily Browning.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer.
In the aftermath of the success of the Twilight books and film series, it was inevitable that Stephenie Meyer would write again. It was also inevitable that any of her writings would be fodder for another movie or series of movies, which is why we have The Host (based on Meyer's latest novel) in theaters this weekend.
The Host is the story of how Earth is invaded by glowing caterpillar-like aliens who insert themselves into the bodies of humans and overtake their psyches. After implantation, the human hosts appear normal and healthy, except for their eyes, which have a neon-blue glow. The aliens, known as “souls,” clean up the planet and create a global utopian society. Nearly all humans are inhabited by the souls, except for a handful who resist. One of the resistance is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a young woman on the run from alien “seekers” while trying to keep her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) safe. While avoiding seekers, Melanie runs into another uninhabited human named Jared (Max Irons) and the two young people fall in love. Melanie eventually gets caught by the seekers and becomes the host body for Soul Wanderer, a new alien arrival. Melanie's real soul resists the alien presence, and eventually tricks Wanderer into going to the desert compound of her uncle Jeb (William Hurt), where more resistance humans live in an underground cavern and hold out against alien intrusion.
After Wanderer and Melanie arrive, most of Jeb's people try to kill her, since her eyes possess the telltale blue glow. Jeb keeps the gang from killing Melanie's body, while the real Melanie (speaking as a voice in the head of her own body) constantly argues with Wanderer about their next move. Wanderer eventually wins over the humans' trust, as Jared realizes that his girlfriend is alive and well inside Melanie's body. Complicating things more is a new romance between Wanderer and Ian (Jake Abel), forming a “love square” (as opposed to a triangle). As Ian and Jared split time schmoozing two different women inside the same body, a persistent seeker named “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) hunts Wanderer with great conviction, utilizing all the resources and technology at her disposal (most of which are chrome-plated sports cars and helicopters).
As Seeker gets closer, Wanderer reevaluates the morality of stripping humans of their free will. She must decide whether to sacrifice herself on behalf of Melanie or keep on possessing her human host.
The Host is a strange and sometimes imaginative science fiction tale, but it has all the earmarks of a Stephenie Meyer story. As she did with vampires, Meyer has taken alien invasion/sci-fi genre to another level by inserting a sappy love story right in the middle of it.
While some of the quirks of Meyer's alien invasion world are interesting, The Host is bogged down by all that sappy romance, which is complimented by a lot of silly dialogue, especially between Melanie's “voice” inside her own head being controlled by Wanderer. Saoirse Ronan spends most of the two-hour movie arguing with herself as Melanie and Wanderer, which does not appeal to folks who like their science fiction with a little more action and special effects. It also seems that Meyer has some sort of fixation on having her main female characters being pursued by more than one hunky lead male – and haven't we all had enough of that already?
One bright spot in The Host is William Hurt, who delivers a solid performance, giving the film some much needed gravitas. Other very capable actors (Kruger – and an underutilized Frances Fisher as one of Jeb's clan) seem wasted in a very boring romance drama disguised as a science fiction thriller.