Andrew Niccol’s “The Host” — based on a sci-fi romance novel by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer — is somewhat intriguing, has a better premise and contains a much, much better protagonist than “Twilight.” Unlike the weak and pathetic Bella Swan, the heroine of “The Host,” Melanie (played by the fantastic up-and-coming Irish actress Saorise Ronan) is resilient and a fighter.
Since this is a Stephenie Meyer universe, Melanie finds herself in a love triangle (well, actually in the case of this story, it’s a “love quadrilateral,” but more on that later) with two young hunks. But unlike the love triangle in “Twilight,” “The Host” doesn’t completely depend on the romance to push it along. Yes, in the end, Melanie will be with one of those hunks, but she’s still strong and can take care of herself. If this weren’t written by Meyer, maybe she wouldn’t just end up with the guy — oh, well.
I wanted “The Host” to be good. Not having read the book, I found myself pleasantly surprised by some of the developments in the plot and a little twist at the end. But, unfortunately, the movie is pretty much undone by a single plot device that’s used all throughout, and then the other flaws in the film start become more glaring.
The set-up is great: In the future, Earth has been taken over by an unseen alien force that has injected their souls into the human bodies. It’s an invasion, but the souls don’t see it that way; they see it as perfecting the human race (you know, sort of an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” vibe).
One night, Melanie (who is part of a small band of humans resisting the invasion) is captured by the higher-up Souls, known as the Seekers, and is injected with a soul. However, Melanie is a fighter, and so when the alien soul is put into her body, Melanie’s mind remains. So now she’s of two minds: her old, human self, and the new alien, who later becomes known as Wanda.
One night, Melanie/Wanda is able to escape (very easily, in fact) and goes out to find her friends and family.
Now, here is where we run into the fatal problem with “The Host.” Since there are two different minds in one body, we see Wanda talk through the body and we hear Melanie talk in an echoed voice-over. A lot of the movie concerns the two persons talking to one another, which, on film, looks like one person talking to herself. This sort of thing works perfectly fine as a literary device, but it’s nearly impossible to pull off convincingly in a dramatic movie, especially in this story where Wanda and Melanie are talking all the time. It’s laughable, and therefore, it totally undercuts the movie’s serious, dramatic tone. It soon divulges down into the same unintentional campiness that the “Twilight” films bathed in.
This is all really quite a shame because “The Host” wants to be taken seriously. Melanie/Wanda eventually finds the band of human survivors, which includes her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and those two young hunks, Jared (Max Irons) and Kyle (Jake Abel). Together, they all try to get along while continuing to resist the Seekers.
There are moments throughout that would be genuinely dramatic and compelling but, sadly, can’t be taken 100-percent seriously.
Great effort, diluted product
Overall, Niccol’s direction is competent: Having directed “Gattaca,” he’s no stranger to science-fiction environments. However, his handling of the romance scenes between Jared, Ian, Melanie and Wanda (the “love quadrilateral”) is admittedly corny. Niccole stages them with the same, glossy sappiness that you would see in a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, with cheesy, artificial, guitar music and all.
It also doesn’t help that Niccol’s script contains terrible lines of dialogue that would still be terrible even if the plot device weren’t there.
All of the actors (with the exception of Irons, who delivers all of his dialogue flatly) do their best to make the whole thing credible, especially Ronan, who convincingly portrays two different personalities at the same time. If you weren’t impressed by her acting abilities before, you should be now.
But because the two-minds-in-one-body story device isn’t believable, it dilutes the final product. It’s too bad, because “The Host” is still a better-made movie than “Twilight.” Sigh.
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