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The Host | Review

Disembodied: Niccol Unable to Overcome Parasitic Source Material

The Host Andrew Niccol PosterFor the sake of comparison, it’s safe to say that the latest adaptation of a Stephanie Meyer’s novel, The Host, makes for a better piece of cinematic artifice than any of the Twilight films. But not by much. For those in the know, sci-fi guru Andrew Niccol, whose favorite motif usually tends to be artificial reality (his directorial debut was Gattaca and he wrote The Truman Show), wrote the screenplay adaptation and directed this grueling effort, which lazily follows the same formula as Meyer’s other works but insert aliens where you’d think vampires.

It’s the not too distant future and mankind has been infiltrated by an alien race that takes over human bodies, erases memories and then uses these empty vessels to make the world a better place. However, there are pockets of human resistance, fleeing to undisclosed locations in hills and deserts. One such trio is trying to make their way to a safe commune run by Jeb (William Hurt) and Maggie Stryder (Frances Fisher), who are aunt and uncle to Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) and her 11 year old brother Jake (Chandler Canterbury).

Melanie recently discovered another human, Jared (Max Irons), and she’s fallen in love with him, a relationship consummated in a war time romance kind of way that seems progressive for the author’s ilk. But when she’s nabbed by an overly aggressive Seeker (Diane Kruger), she tries to kill herself to let her brother and lover escape. But the Seeker senses that she is a strong one, and they inject one of the alien race into Melanie, a presumable soul like substance that resembles bright white ganglions. This new being inside Melanie is called Wanderer and she is charged with ransacking the host’s memories to locate the rest of the resistance. But Melanie didn’t completely die, and she is still alive and trapped inside her own body, her only option left to convince the Wanderer to take pity on her and take her body to Uncle Jeb’s safe place so she may be reunited with her loved ones. But, since the host bodies’ glowing eyes belie the presence within them, Jeb and his followers are immediately aware of her true nature and want to kill the Wanderer. Slowly, she gains their trust, nicknamed Wanda, and finds a love interest of her own in a field hand, Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel). But how will their love survive when Melanie seethes inside Wanda, wishing to be united with Jared?

At the very least, The Host proves that even vibrant talents such as Niccol seem to be immune to engendering quality into abstract pop silliness, at least with highly anticipated material such as this, nipping gaily at the skirts of Twilight. Well, it finally seems the milk train doesn’t stop here anymore. Marketed as yet another epic love story, and superficially embracing the notion of accepting the differences of others, The Host is instead only further evidence of Meyer’s myopic views on love and her limited talents as an author. She prizes “messy” romantic entanglements meant to extol the pros and cons of heterosexual unions, once again centered on a vaguely virtuous female who is written with a set of strong adjectives but no characterization whatsoever. Two handsome young men fawn over one female body as if her sexual pheromones were on hyper drive, which is the stuff of cheap and tawdry drugstore fiction or Animal Planet.

And what did the aliens do with all the bulky, overweight, and elderly humans? There’s nary a non-model in sight. Who cuts and styles their coiffed hair? While there’s a certain amount of potential that could have been developed, in that the film feels like a rehash of those Communist allegory sci-fi films of generations past, (if not even directly ripping off Invasion of the Body Snatchers and spinning it into a young adult romance), the film is virtually crippled by the ridiculous banter of Saoirse Ronan’s host voice, in constant conversation with her invading Wanderer. Flatly relayed comedy is the overriding result, and may remind one of the demon fetus that chatters with its expecting mother in the French horror film Baby Blood (1990) or Lily Tomlin sharing Steve Martin’s body in All of Me (1984).

While Ronan and her nemesis seeker Diane Kruger may come off as silly, the brunt of the terrible performances can be credited to the supporting cast, where you could take your pick of worst offender. William Hurt dusts off his monotony skills for another awkwardly calibrated role, an extension of his performance as the leader in 2004’s The Village. As Ronan’s suitors, Jake Abel and Max Irons (son of Jeremy) chew their way deliriously through the scenery. But by far the worst crime is the fact that The Host attempts to align our sympathies with a ragtag group of rebel humans, viciously hanging onto their dying traditions, which have nearly decimated their environment to the extent that an alien race takes over, not to manipulate or change the world, but to stop the violence, the hatred, and the destruction of its natural resources. This is the dangerous new world that Stephanie Meyer’s Melanie is fighting so valiantly to restore.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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