Flaws not fatal
One wonders how much Stephanie Meyer’s reputation hurts the chances of success for “The Host,” the latest film adaptation from the author of the “Twilight” series. Even Meyer’s die-hard fans would have to admit that the science-fiction story of an alien race that inhabits earthlings, and one girl’s dire attempt to resist this extra-terrestrial cohabitation was going to be a challenge to film.
While “The Host” has several flaws, none of them prove fatal, and the movie should be given props for being that rare original screenplay for which we critics are always pleading. Meyer’s film, directed and written by talented Andrew Niccol (“The Truman Show”) is not a dumb action-fest, nor a contrived comedy, neither is it a sequel and there is nary a superhero in sight. “The Host” does, however, seem to be strictly aimed at the teenage girl-and-her-mom audience, but it has broader appeal than one would expect; you might despise the “Twilight” series and still find something to appreciate about “The Host.”
For starters, there’s young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, (“The Lovely Bones,” “Hanna”) who stars as Melanie Stryder, one of the few remaining humans on earth in an undefined future who rebels against invading aliens which possess the bodies of earthlings, supplanting the “host” personality with their own. In a twist from most futuristic films, this invasion has eliminated war and strife and these new hosts are kind, generous do-gooders who don’t even lock the doors of their generic grocery stores.
Captured and implanted with new fiber-optic protozoa for a soul and now named Wanda, Melanie’s spirit resists mightily, and in the film’s primary conceit we hear Melanie’s thoughts as she battles the gentle alien Wanda for control of her body. The film uses a conventional approach to a unconventional idea – even for a science fiction film – that is as awkward as it is funny, but the teenage-level humor is appropriate considering Melanie’s youth and that of many of Meyer’s readers.
Ronan is terrific filling two distinct roles especially when the perfunctory Meyer-esque love triangle plotline surfaces – Melanie’s former beau Jared (Max Irons) and Wanda’s new interest Ian (Jake Abel) contend for their particular personality of affection. As is typical of the “Twilight” series, this plot is filled with fairly predictable, if innocuous passion plays. Kisses in the rain? Check!
There is a villain among the aliens, a “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) who is, dare we say, the most beautiful of all the creatures but is neither sufficiently menacing nor on screen long enough. The rebels hide out in gorgeous rock formations and canyons (New Mexico, primarily) evading the aliens in their chromed out Lotuses and helicopters. There are a few low key action sequences but the somnambulant pacing makes this more of a sci-fi psychological/romance film. Think the classic “Starman” meets Nicholas Sparks, and “The Host” doesn’t achieve the highs of either.
Still, there is a place for “The Host,” but it may not be schmaltzy enough for Meyer’s fans, or cool enough for her detractors.
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence