The Host (2013) / Sci Fi-Romance

MPAA rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Running time: 125 min.

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Jake Abel, Max Irons, Chandler Canterbury, Frances Fisher, Stephen Rider, Scott Lawrence, Emily Browning
Director: Andrew Niccol
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol (based on the book by Stephanie Meyer)
Review published January 16, 2014

In the future, Earth has been all but completely invaded by parasitic aliens who take possession of living human bodies and make them their own. The world is a more peaceful place with the aliens in charge, and the planet in less dire of a situation environmentally. But the human hosts, more or less, cease to exist once their bodies are taken over.

One human, a teenaged girl named Melanie (Ronan, Hanna), proves to be so strong in will that she continues to be a presence in the mind, even though the body is in complete control of the alien named Wanderer. Wanderer initially is sifting through Melanie's memories in order to get knowledge of whatever remaining humans might be out there to find and take over. However, as the memories begin to come to light, the alien soon becomes sympathetic to Melanie's plight, and decides to help her find her boyfriend, Jared (Irons, Red Riding Hood), and her younger brother, if they're still alive. As the two work together, they come to appreciate each other as beings, as they make their way to reunite Melanie with her loved ones hiding in the desert area. However, a tenacious alien known as a Seeker (Kruger, Unknown) won't let the rogue Wanderer go, doing whatever she can to find her and root out the rest of the rebellious humans she can.

Andrew Niccol, a writer and director who initially showed such promise with films like Gattaca and The Truman Show, can't seem to find the right footing to make The Host into anything more than a fluffy sci-fi body-snatcher flick for tweens. This one smacks of pursuit of a paycheck, rather than his usual exploration of science fiction or war themes. The tone of the story isn't surprising, given that it is adapted from the best-selling book from 2006 by Stephanie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" series, and whose audience is generally the young female set.

As with Twilight, The Host deals with a love triangle (actually a quadrangle, of sorts) with Melanie in love with Jared while Wanderer, dubbed 'Wanda' by her new human friends (who think that extra syllable makes her name way too long), developing feelings for Jared's friend, Ian (Abel, I Am Number Four). The telltale difference between those who have been taken over by an alien and those who have not is mostly told through the colors of their pupils, which are silver among those bodies who are hosts for their parasitic inhabitants. Why the aliens don't wear color contacts to be accepted by the humans, or why humans don't put on silver ones to fool the aliens is beyond the story's ability to explain, though sunglasses are generally used to keep it ambiguous for a spell. The aliens also like to wear white suits, drive mirror-plated cars and helicopters, for reasons that they just like the style, I suppose.

One of the main gimmicks employed within the movie is that we get to hear both sides of the conversation between 'Wanda' and Melanie, with Wanda voicing most of her dialogue verbally, while Melanie's voice comes across as just a voice in her head. In one of the story's more confusing developments, Ian develops feelings for his buddy Jared's girl now that she is acting schizophrenic, while Wanda develops feelings in return. Supposedly, Ian is in love with her 'essence', or personality, which I find to be disingenuous, considering that Wanda is neither male nor female, and could just as well have been inhabiting the body of some burly lumberjack as it could the body of a cute, teenaged girl.

The cast is relatively good, though their glossy, mostly one-note characterizations don't offer much choice material for them to give us much nuance other than in a pulpy romance sort of way. For such high-concept science fiction, it is disappointing that it all plays out quite sudsy, as if a mash-up like "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" were done with a Nicholas Sparks book that were mixed up with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Scenes are played for their dreamy qualities, such as the sight of a lush wheat field growing inside of the shell of a dormant volcano, as the clan works busily like the Amish do in Witness. The hunky boys get all dirty and stuff doing manual labor, which will likely be enough to make the young girls swoon in the viewing audience.

The main problem with The Host is its consummate dullness -- a derivative, homogenized story with no edge or moment of something truly original to spark it to life. It's a pretty film with a pretty cast, which should pretty much only please those who prefer to not have any substance to interfere with their glossy moving pictures.

 Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo