When I told my girlfriend I was off to review to the new Stephenie Meyers movie and that, having seen one of the Twilight movies, I had low expectations, she responded, “It could be worse. She could have teamed up with Nicholas Sparks.” “Good point!” I said, and then, a half hour into the film, the two main characters kiss in the rain. Damn.
The Host opens with a voiceover by Donald Sutherland (or at least a very Donald-Sutherland-sounding narrator) stating that war, famine, poverty, and the like have been eradicated from earth. It has been taken over by an alien race of what I’d refer to as “Solar Centipedes” if the film hadn’t bashed the symbol of glowworms into my noodle.
The glowworms apparently are implanted into humans through a delicate process that makes you wonder how they were able to do it seven billion times (and how was the first one implanted?) and the quickest way to tell them apart from the regular humans is that the glowies have blue rings around their eyes — chances are you’ve seen something like them before in a better film. I’m certain.
Their latest victim is Melanie Stryder (Saoirsa Ronan), a plucky teen who tried to avoid capture by leaping through a window. Fortunately, the glowworms have some magic healing spray to bring her back to life and implant one of their kind, known as “Wanderer” into her neck. But Melanie resists, and in one of the worst decisions of the film, is in constant voiceover arguments with Wanderer.
It’s necessary to show the two characters struggling, but how, among the cosmos, did director Andrew Niccol (GATTACA) think this would be interesting to watch? Scene after endless scene is shot in closeup of Ronan, mouth open and eyes wide as Melanie pleads and scolds and coaxes Wanderer, who responds and resists and so ons. Maybe worse is that Melanie, we’re told, is from Louisiana, and for the first half of the film, Ronan eschews using a Southern accent. Then, during one of her outbursts, she speaks with a drawl that comes in and goes out, sometimes in the same sentence.
As Wanderer recovers, she’s attended by another alien, Seeker (Diana Kruger), whose job is apparently to seek out humans, and you wonder how she was able to score such an on-point name. Was there a fight over who gets to call themselves “Seeker”? Because there’s quite a few of them, and you’d think that title would be in high demand.
Anyway, Seeker wants to tap Melanie’s memories to seek out other humans, and we see a host (sorry) of flashbacks tracking Melanie’s life up until her window jump. After the invasion, she foraged with her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), meeting up with Jared (Max Irons) and forming a small family unit. It’s around this time that they kiss in the rain.
Back in the real world, Wanderer is told that Melanie is resisting too much and that the Seeker’s glowworm is to be implanted in her. Wanderer is locked up and convinced to escape by Melanie. They steal a car and head out to the desert to find Melanie’s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), who, fortunately, has set up a small resistance among some rock formations with his wife and a handful of other humans, including a doctor played by Barack Obama (Scott Lawrence). Even more fortunately, Jared and Jamie are already there, but none of them take too kindly to Wanderer, since, hey, she’s one of them!
As they fight over whether or not Wanderer should be there, one of the younger teens, Ian (Jake Abel) grows attracted to Melanie as Wanderer, which would lead to tension between he and Jared were Jared not the most violently opposed person to taking Wanderer/Melanie in — which in turn would be the most interesting aspect of the film were it actually explored. Instead, both Ian and Jared take turns just slapping Wanderer/Melanie around before accepting her. The climax of this is a scene where the two boys take turns kissing Wanderer to draw out Melanie. Ahh, Stephenie Meyer.
Added to that part of life within the rocks are a few raids on the alien’s stores, which is one of the highlights of the film. Not the chase sequence, which is brought on simply because
they want an action beat the humans are driving slightly above the alien speed limit, but because the store is simply named “Store” in a nice, Repo Man touch, is stocked with and retains the look of IKEA, and includes the alien glowworm version of muzak. It’s a great touch but ultimately it makes you wish you could explore this world instead of watch three dull people follow their checklist of love tropes.
The Donald Sutherland(ish) narration has to be a callback to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, because, well, the concept is nearly identical. That’s misleading, because, whether it’s Meyer or Niccol’s fault (I may sound like I’m just attacking Meyer, but I do think most of these choices are Niccol’s), the concept is almost completely ignored. I’d be perfectly happy to lose a few of Wanderer and Melanie’s arguments, or the contrived subplot with her brother’s injury, for someone asking if they’re not better off with the glowworms — or trying to argue or reason with the glowworms. What we’re given is two hours of close-up arguing with voiceover, on-the-nose symbolism, and harlequin romance. And an utter lack of payoff.