Posted March 29, 2013 by Daniel Hodgson in
Twilight author’s body-snatcher tween-romance knows better than to take itself too seriously.
There are three kinds of movies: the good, the bad, and the weird. The Host manages to be all three at once.
The Host takes place a few years after an alien species called the “Souls” take over Earth. The aliens create a Utopian world, free of war, disease, and famine, but humans are now hosts to the alien beings, who invade their bodies and control them like puppets. Once a Soul takes over a human body, the human mind is almost always lost.
A survivor of the invasion, Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), is finally captured. The aliens put one of their kind inside of her. The alien, who calls herself, “Wanderer,” delves into Melanie’s memories to find the hiding place of the last surviving humans. However, Melanie’s consciousness still remains, and fights Wanderer for control.
As Wanderer explores Melanie’s past, she comes to care for the people that Melanie did: her kid brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend Jared Howe (Max Irons). Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape the aliens’ confines and protect her loved ones from the Souls. They eventually arrive at the human stronghold deep in the caves of desert mountains, where Melanie’s uncle Jeb (Willam Hurt) leads a band of survivors. However, the humans don’t trust Wanderer, whose glowing eyes give her away as an alien. Meanwhile, an alien called Seeker (Diane Kruger) relentlessly pursues Wanderer, trying to locate the last human resistance.
Melanie is reunited with Jared in the stronghold, and it’s here that The Host runs into problems. Another human, Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel), begins to have feelings not for Melanie, but for Wanderer, creating dual love-triangles. Say what you will about Twilight’s creepy Edward and possessive Jacob—at least their characters were delineated. Jamie and Ian on the other hand aren’t just underdeveloped; they’re undeveloped, so The Host does not compel as tween-romance. It doesn’t matter if she ends up with bland, vaguely defined Boy A, or bland, vaguely defined Boy B. It doesn’t help that the guys in The Host all look similar to one another as well.
The bizarre situation does create some entertaining moments, if ironically. In one scene, Melanie retreats from awareness, and Wanderer needs her quick-thinking to solve a crisis. Wanderer tries to bring Melanie back by having Jamie kiss her, which doesn’t work. Jamie then beckons for Ian to give it a go. Jamie certainly is an understanding sort. “This is very complicated,” Melanie comments at one point. There is no need for a RiffTrack here; The Host provides its own.
There’s two ideas at play here: body-snatcher style sci-fi, and Utopian future. However, as either type of science fiction story, The Host is not thought out. The Souls create a “perfect” society, but what kind of government do the Souls have, or are they anarchists? Seeker reports to someone, but we never find out who. Seeker and Healer (who transplants Souls into human hosts) have obvious functions in their society, but what exactly does Wanderer do, what is her purpose? Then again, Wanderer says she’s 1000 years old, so maybe Soul retirement age is 650—I really don’t know.
Other than their medicine and micro-spaceships, we don’t see much of their technology, so we don’t know how exactly the otherwise nonviolent and physically delicate Souls took over Earth in the first place. Prior to her capture, Melanie was able to fend off a half-dozen of them fairly easily. A movie is trouble when it’s premise seems unlikely.
Another problem is how the Souls take over a human body through a surgical procedure. Shouldn’t this should be a natural, biological process? How do the souls reproduce, sexually or asexually? Do Souls have genders? Not since Prometheus has a science fiction film kept up at night with questions.
While The Host lacks good storytelling and world-building, it does have a few interesting characters going for it. Melanie is no Bella Swan. She’s feisty, quick-thinking—and doesn’t need a man (or two) to come to her rescue. Wanderer (or “Wanda” as Jeb calls) is a gentle soul, and serves as the pair’s conscience in tough situations, and the two characters have a fun chemistry, and Ronan is good in both roles. Finally, Seeker’s relentlessness makes her a worthy opponent for tough-girl Melanie.
While The Host has its bad moments, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and invites the audience to laugh at it. “You’re not even from the same planet!” Melanie protests as Wanderer and Ian stare into each other’s eyes. I’m not saying The Host is good (though it’s a masterpiece next to Beautiful Creatures), but I was entertained by it, if at least ironically. I can’t slap some mindless, arbitrary star-rating onto something like this, but I do recommend it for what it is, as something occasionally good, often enjoyably bad, but always quite weird, or as a character quips towards the end, “Strange world we live in.” You said it, kiddo.