By Van Roberts
For the record, I enjoyed the “Twilight” film franchise and even read the first novel. Author Stephanie Meyer’s vampires versus werewolves epics amused, excited, and delighted with surprises galore. The third installment “Eclipse” ranks as my favorite, but I loved all those lightweight horror chillers. Unfortunately, Meyer’s doesn’t deliver narrative material either as suspenseful or as compelling with “The Host.” The bestselling author produced this shallow, one-dimensional thriller with the usually competent writer & director Andrew Niccol. Niccol is no stranger to sci-fi since he has helmed “Gattaca,” “S1m0ne,” and “In Time.” Basically, “The Host” (* OUT OF ****) derives its narrative from movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Puppet Masters.” You know when somebody has gone alien because their eyes glitter like the creepy adolescents in “Children of the Damned.” Meantime, as a road-trip melodrama, “The Host” broods more often than it boils. Sadly, Niccol generates marginal conflict in this lukewarm thriller. Not only are these aliens well-mannered, but they also dress in immaculate white outfits. They patrol the planet in silver Lotus sports cars, hover overhead in shiny Bell Jet Ranger helicopters, and straddle shimmering motorcycles. The drawback is these aliens dominate each human with one of their own Souls. Typically, the Soul overrides its captive human, but our heroine proves far from typical. Actress Saoirse Ronan makes a fool of herself as a woebegone human who constantly bickers with the alien occupying her body. Despite her best efforts, Ronan appears pretty silly during these hysterical moments trying to imitate the antics that Jim Carrey performed in “Me, Myself, and Irene.”
“The Host” is the kind of minimalist, low-budget science fiction film where everything happens on Earth. The story unfolds after a parasitic alien race known as ‘the Souls’ have taken over the planet. Occasionally, we’re given glimpses of these aliens. They resemble luminous jelly fish. The Souls slit an opening in the nape of your neck and then slip in one of these ethereal-looking critters. Compared to the usual malevolent aliens terrorizing other cinematic galaxies, the Souls are benevolent. Indeed, these intelligent extraterrestrials don’t lie, and they have changed things considerably. Mankind no longer wages wars. Diseases afflict nobody. Ironically, the aliens may be the best thing that has happened to Earth. Instead of atomizing mankind as the aliens in the green-themed Keanu Reeves’ sci-fi saga “Day the Earth Stood Still,” the Souls subject humanity to a form of house arrest. They occupy our bodies and erase our memories. The problem with this nondescript science fiction saga is that the Souls aren’t antagonistic enough to qualify as villainous.
Heroic Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan of “The Lovely Bones”) struggles to hide her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury of “Repo Men”) from the Souls. Melanie conceals her sibling under a desk. Scrambling off in different direction, she leads the aliens away from Jamie. Melanie doesn’t flee far. She crashes headlong through a window and fall to what should have been her demise. Miraculously, despite breaking every bone and rupturing every organ in her body, Melanie survives the plunge. The Souls heal her with their minimalist technology that resembles silver packages of expensive cologne. They introduce one of their own parasites into Melanie’s body to learn where the last pockets of resistance exist. The mind control that the Souls have perfected, however, suffers a setback with Melanie. She refuses to kowtow to the alien in her body known to us as ‘the Wanderer.’ Inexplicably, after the Wanderer has exposed most of Melanie’s memories, she decides to obey Melanie when the latter insists they must escape captivity. Apparently, the Wanderer harbors mixed feelings about her own race so she helps Melanie acquire a car without endangering the vehicle’s owner. The alien possessed owner willingly relinquishes his automobile; he assures Melanie and the Wanderer that it will transport them for many miles. Our heroine appropriates the vehicle and later crashes it rather spectacularly on a remote stretch of highway crossing the desert because the Wanderer has second thoughts. Afterward, they trudge through the desert on a journey of hardship until Melanie finds the last known humans. Of course, when Melanie finds her family, everybody regards her with justifiable suspicion since her eyes gleam with an alien presence. The leader of her band, her Uncle Jed (William Hurt of “Dark City”), doesn’t feel threatened by Melanie’s dual personality.
“The Host” spends most of its time with Melanie and the Wanderer fighting for supremacy over their body. Melanie reacts with considerable rage and jealousy when the Wanderer kisses her old flame, Jared (Max Irons of “Dorian Gray”), and then Melanie forces the Wanderer to slap Jared. Jared feels relieved because he realizes Melanie has survived the alien possession. Later, Ian (Jake Abel of “I Am Number Four”) falls in love with the same alien that he had abhorred earlier and refuses to see her tortured. Presumably, “The Host” was designed to appeal to junior high school girls because our heroine concentrates primarily on kissing. At this point, “The Host” degenerates into a formulaic, chick flick tearjerker. The one-thousand year old alien inhabiting Melanie’s body doesn’t understand the emotions that occur between humans under passionate circumstances. Essentially, what we have here in a romantic triangle: two studs with one babe who suffers from a dual-identity crisis. Meantime, Terra the Seeker (Diane Kruger of “National Treasure”) and her personnel search relentlessly for the Wanderer/Melanie. Eventually, they are able to locate our heroes because the grain that Uncle Jed cultivates inside a mountain relies on a sophisticated array of mirrors to gather sunlight. Nevertheless, Uncle Jeb intervenes and saves the day for our lovers. This is the kind of melodrama where the heroes rehabilitate the villains rather than exterminate with extreme prejudice. A final scene during the end credits when our heroes are joyriding through enemy country reveals that the Wanderer isn’t the only alien who isn’t happy with its own kind. Although it looks visually stunning amid awe-inspiring scenery, “The Host” still amounts to half-baked hokum. The heroine is an idiot; the villains lack menace, and the melodrama flatlines throughout the film’s interminable 125 minute length.