'The Host': Inversion of the body snatchers
By Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
Stephenie Meyer, author and creator of the wildly popular "Twilight Saga," again aims to take over the big screen, this time with writer and director Andrew Niccol's adaptation of her sci-fi tinged and slightly more mature audience-skewing "The Host." This time around, Meyer abandons the supernatural for the extraterrestrial, imagining a future Earth that has been invaded by an alien race only known as "Souls," tiny beings that "bond" with other races in order to live among them. Unfortunately, a Soul's idea of "bonding" actually means "taking over their unwilling host's body and consuming their lives." Of the few humans left on the planet, young Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of the strongest, but when she is captured by the otherwise-peaceful Souls and implanted with a Soul of her own, known as Wanderer, it's still a shock to everyone when Mel just won't let go -- of her body, her mind, and the people she loves most.
At the center of "The Host" there is (of course) a complicated love story that makes the already-convoluted tale feel still more overwrought and poorly plotted. Melanie's overwhelming desire to find the rest of the human resistance stems from her need to be reunited with her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) and her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), but once she and Wanderer find their way to the seat of the rebellion, her Uncle Jeb's (William Hurt) desert cave, it is the Soul (now going by "Wanda") who begins to develop feelings for another cave-dweller, Ian (Jake Abel). Despite a plotted runtime of over two hours, neither love story feels fully developed, and both continually fall flat.
To her credit, Ronan certainly seems game enough to play two very different people trapped in just one body, but even she often relies on blank stares to convey moments of wonder or confusion, and her performance is scarcely able to carry the production, an absolute necessity for a film such as "The Host." And while Meyer's novel easily and clearly made distinctions between Melanie and Wanderer, Niccol instead relies on clunky voiceover to differentiate between the two, with Melanie frequently (and often laughably) piping in with a bizarrely bad Southern accent.
Director Niccol cut his teeth on similarly-themed science fiction films, but
his once-bright future visions (remember "Gattaca"?) have now faded into the boring and bland,
and "The Host" is no different. Niccol's lack of innovation spreads to all
facets of his film -- with his characters outfitted in impractical and
ill-fitting clothes, the world crafted to look absolutely sterile, and even
Uncle Jeb's cave, rendered so spectacularly and viscerally in Meyer's book,
now looking like the backside of a Disneyland ride.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice Magazine, and an Associate Editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.