– Summary –
Director : Andrew Niccol
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Max Irons, Jake Abel, William Hurt, Chandler Canterbury, Frances Fisher, Emily Browning.
Approx Running Time : 121 Minutes
Synopsis: When Earth is colonized by an invading Alien species, who take over the human body, one young resistance fighter finds herself cohabiting her own body with one of the invaders.
What we think : Flat, boring film about an alien invasion couldn’t be more insipid than this – based on Stephenie Meyer’s book (yes, she who stillbirthed the Twilight series onto us all) the film lacks interest, cohesion or even a point. Ronan acts well enough, Kruger provides a reasonably active Bad Girl presence, and the two male love-interests look almost identical, but the overall tone of the thing is everywhere, resulting in a lifeless cinematic venture that says little, does even less, and never really entertains.
Stephenie Meyer needs to stop writing.
Stephenie Meyer somehow tapped into the zeitgeist with her genre-defining Twilight saga, a series of four nigh-inconsequential books that somehow sold like diamonds, and which, when turned into five “blockbuster” films, managed to earn everyone involved a small fortune. It was a shame that the books, and the films, were utter garbage, and the fact they became so successful was probably to down to a herd-like mentality amongst the teen girls to whom the books were marketed – if one watched, they all watched… etc etc. The Host, a book set outside of the Twilight universe but still written with excruciating literary skill by Meyer again, sees Meyer attempting to scale the lofty heights of science fiction and bring a vomit-worthy love triangle into the picture once again. It’s a film about an alien invasion, and how the last hope of humanity is fighting back. With a director of the caliber of Andrew Niccol, who has been coasting on his Gattaca success for most of his career without doing anything to support it (did anyone else see In Time, or S1m0ne?) you’d expect a film of at least passable competency. What we get with The Host, however, is anything but.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: The human race has been taken over by small parasitic aliens called “Souls”. The Souls travel to distant planets en masse, in individual capsules, inserting themselves individually into a host body of that planet’s dominant species. The Soul completely replaces the consciousness of its host, though they are able to access the host’s memories. Occupied hosts are identifiable by silver rings that form in the hosts’ eyes. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is captured and infused with a soul called “Wanderer”. Wanderer is asked by one of the aliens’ enforcers, Seeker (Diane Kruger) to access Melanie’s memories in order to discover the location of a pocket of non-assimilated humans. Surprisingly, Melanie’s consciousness has not been eliminated, and it struggles for control of her body. Melanie and Wanderer are able to carry out an internal conversation with each other, forming something of a friendship. Wanderer does share with Seeker that Melanie was traveling with her brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and her boyfriend, Jared Howe (Max Irons), to find Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt) in the desert. With the help of Melanie, Wanderer escapes captivity and makes her way to the desert, where she is eventually found by Jeb, who takes her to a series of caves hidden inside a mountain, where the pocket of humans (including Jared and Jamie) is hiding. Wanderer’s presence in the shelter is met with hostility by all but Jeb. Seeing this, Melanie instructs Wanderer not to tell anyone she is still alive, fearing that doing so would only provoke them, though she later allows her to tell Jamie, to put his mind at ease. Wanderer begins interacting with the humans and participating in their harvest, and slowly begins to gain their trust, as well as forming a bond with human Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel). Through this, she begins to sympathize with them, and question her species’ actions.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s divide this review up into the good and the bad of The Host. The film doesn’t demand complexity from its audience, so why should a review of it? First, the good. The Host is led by the excellent Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna, Byzantium) as Melanie/Wanda, the alien affected human who spends a great deal of the movie engaged in an internal monologue with… herself, really. Ronan’s a competent actress, and even if the scripting here offers zero room to develop or any kind of depth, she imbues her characters with what little nuance she’s able. Chief co-star, Diane Kruger, passes the litmus test on Screen Villany by being not entirely evil but always kinda pissed off. Kruger, much like Ronan, is given zero character development or back-story, making the Seeker role more perfunctory than it should be, but I give her props for making the most out of a very thin idea.
The rest of the cast, including a confused looking William Hurt (surely he must be getting sick of fielding scripts of a similar quality to that odious Lost In Space movie?), Frances Fisher (looking like she’s still dressed in steerage costumes from Titanic), Max Irons (he was good in the underwhelming Red Riding Hood) and Jake Abel (who continues to straddle inept Young Adult films with the Percy Jackson franchise, as well as I Am Number Four), all provide the film with minimal character quality, leaving the film to limp through its turgid narrative to its decidedly DOA ending.
The film’s production value is high, which is nice to see – the visual effects are mostly seamless, with the Soul’s being a little too Star Trekky for my taste but that’s okay, and the creepy iris-lens glowing effects on the possessed’s eyes being a visual cue that, had the film been better, might have entered pop-culture as iconic. The score, by Antonio Pinto, is melancholy and nearly effective as a a mood-setter, but it’s offset by a lack of impact in the rest of the film, so it remains largely unmemorable and entirely un-hummable. About the only other thing worth mentioning in this film is the cinematography, by DP Roberto Schaefer, who gives the crisp, sharply defined sci-fi edge to proceedings that belies the rougher, more sweaty tonal value the story aims at.
On the bad side of the ledger, where the shit sits, are the rest of the film’s problems. Encumbered by not only an awful script and entirely inadequate direction, is a story that just doesn’t deliver any entertainment whatsoever. As a thriller, it’s boring as watching paint dry. As a sci-fi epic it’s as large-scale as a low-budget short film. As an action film, it’s utterly forgettable. Most of this I lump at the feet of director Andrew Niccol, who makes everything feel like a funeral, and every line of dialogue feel like a eulogy. Deadeningly paced, lacking any kind of energy or momentum in its otherwise vapid story, the film comes to a crashing stop when Saoirse Ronan arrives at the underground lair of Uncle Jeb – from here, the in-hiding-from-the-aliens routine is disengaging, rote and enormously generic. The fact that there’s no tension anywhere in this films overarching narrative is the crucially absent factor.
The film tries to drum up some kind of tension by having one of the apparently interchangeable male leads – I think it was Jake Abel’s Ian, fall for Wanda (Why? She’s a parasitic alien who is effectively holding Melanie hostage inside her own body), while Melanie’s lad-love, Jared pines for his Melanie-who-isn’t to come back. It’s all very convoluted, and Niccol mishandles the basic human emotion of the whole concept, ruining any kind of point the subtext might have made. Melanie’s brother, portrayed by Child Star In Waiting Candler Canterbury, provides Melanie with some motivation to rectify her “host” situation, but even this story point becomes lost amongst the constant gurning, voice-over conversations and running from the aliens. All it got from me was a larger yawn.
At about the 90 minute mark, I was expecting things to wrap up. The plot had come to its natural conclusion (or so I thought), the characters were all set to wander off into the sunset and hopefully perish from boredom themselves, just like me, and what little momentum the narrative still had waned faster than an Englishman batting in the Ashes. But no, the film refused to give up and finish. Instead, it wanted to prattle on with 30 minutes of cutting-room reject inanity to finish with, a last-minute hook attempting to reconcile the abrupt ending to Seeker’s role in the film with the possible future of humanity when faced with a way to coexist with the Souls. The film even threw Emily Browning (who looked like she’d fallen on her face stepping out of her trailer) and Bokeem Woodbine (what the f@ck was he even doing in this film?) for a three-second cameo at the very end, just to try and make you think you’d seen a better film than you had. The Host never earned that as a moment. It was trite, and redundant.
A lot of folks have come out and said the film is “unintentionally hilarious”; I failed utterly to find any kind of unintended humor in the film, instead I think about midway through I started to update my Twitter on my phone. The Host is a film that flatlines early, and is impossible to resuscitate, no matter how good your chest compressions are. Its inert narrative, boring set of characters, and charmless, gormless plot make for a distinctly un-enjoyable viewing experience, the kind of film you’d expect would be better considering the concept itself is ripe with possibility (okay, that’s one I’ll give you, Stephenie Meyer, you talentless hack!) – if only that potential was tapped into. The Host is a vastly indifferent sci-fi outing that hopefully hammers another nail into the coffin of Hollywood’s fascination with all the dreck the Meyer publishes.