Film Review – The Host
I don’t know if Andrew Niccol’s The Host is one of the worst movies of the year, or one of the best. It is bad—hilariously bad. The writing is stilted, the acting flat, and the plotting damn near incomprehensible. Stephenie Meyer, best known for introducing the world to the Twilight book series, returns with a story that is one part Nicholas Sparks romance and one part Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s one of the those movies that makes you scratch your head thinking, “What the hell is happening?” It is so absurd and ridiculous that I found myself laughing. This is one entertaining movie, but maybe not in the way the filmmakers intended. Surely they must have known they were making a comedy, right?
We begin with the world already taken over by alien invaders, burrowing themselves inside the brains of human “hosts.” Those who have been taken have turned into emotionless beings: they walk and talk alike, dress in sterilized white outfits, and sport creepy glowing eyes. Their vehicles are molded the same, and all forms of individuality have been erased. I liked the added detail where a storefront has been redesigned to just say “STORE” in big black letters. The aliens preach harmony, peace, and taking care of the planet. Wait a minute, these aliens don’t seem that bad—heck, they may even be better at recycling than actual humans. If it wasn’t for all that “possession” stuff…
Amongst the transformed is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a human who has been captured and integrated with an alien. She is renamed “Wanderer,” because, apparently, her purpose is to wander (just as doctors are named “Healers” and police authorities are named “Seekers”). What the aliens don’t realize is that the soul of Melanie survived inside her body, which means Melanie occupies the mind of Wanderer (or “Wanda,” as she’s nicknamed). So just to make that clear, Wanda has control of Melanie’s body, but can still interact with Melanie in her head—got it? Under the influence of Melanie, Wanda escapes and heads out to the desert, where a group of humans have taken refuge underneath the mountainside.
What follows is the most aggravating use of narration/voiceover I have ever seen in a movie. With Melanie’s voice constantly chiming in, we get to hear every single thought she has. One of the weaknesses of narration is when it starts to describe what is happening on screen. Not only do we hear Melanie describe what is happening, we hear what she thinks about what is happening, her feelings towards Wanda, her plans, her doubts, her hopes, her fears, on and on and on. Niccol (who wrote the screenplay) never allows us to figure things out on our own, but makes sure Melanie/Wanda describes everything, regardless of how brutally obvious it is.
Things don’t get better when Melanie/Wanda reaches the human hideout. In the midst of the humans are Melanie’s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons). Aware that Melanie is possessed, the group takes her in with caution. But as they come to the realization that A) Melanie may still be alive inside her own body, and B) Wanda may not be the “evil menace” they thought she was—do things start to change. Oh, and we can’t forget that a love triangle is a requirement here, as survivor Ian (Jake Abel) develops feelings for Wanda. So to make things clear again: Jared loves Melanie, Ian loves Wanda, but both girls are stuck inside the same body.
There are many problems I could talk about: William Hurt acting like he’s barely present, the silliness of growing a wheat field inside of a mountain (yes, you read that right), or how conveniently the main villain (Diane Kruger) shows up between scenes of schmaltzy romance. But all joking aside, the biggest concern of this movie is its very premise: a young girl being possessed by an alien. There’s something disturbing about how Melanie loses control of her body, yet is fully aware of what is happening to it. When Wanda falls for Ian and tries to express that emotion, she has to fight Melanie (who resists). But when Jared tries to share his love for Melanie, it is Wanda who receives the physicality of the moment. Do you see how this is a problem? Niccol and Meyer can try to hide it under the guise of a love story, but at the end of the day Melanie is clearly a victim as her body is used against her will. There is a scene when both Ian and Jared make out with Wanda to illicit a reaction from Melanie, and that came off as all sorts of inappropriate.
The Host is so bizarre I almost want to recommend it just to see how people will react. It’s goofy, corny, and oddly upsetting. I laughed a lot, if only to shake away how weird it actually is. There’s enough here to fill up three or four reviews—take that for what you will.
Final Grade: D+