After the mega-success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, it didn’t take long for Hollywood to green light an adaptation of the writer’s other supernatural romance story, The Host. Instead of vampires and werewolves, The Host follows body-snatching extraterrestrial, Wanderer, in a sci-fi tale set in the aftermath of an alien occupation on Earth. The actual invasion event itself is never shown but it’s implied that the aliens, “The Souls,” first came to our planet in the interest of creating peace and harmony – as humans had been warring and destroying the Earth for millennia. To survive, a Soul is inserted into a human body, suppressing the original occupant’s consciousness, and changing their eye color.
However, in certain instances, a human will be strong enough to resist suppression – allowing that person to act as a voice inside a Soul-occupied head and, in extreme situations, momentarily regain control of their body. Which is the case when Soul Wanderer is inserted into the body of tough-as-nails human rebel Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan). During a search of Melanie’s memories, punctuated by commentary from the disembodied human voice, Wanderer experiences conflicted emotions about the Soul occupation and (with a little push from Melanie) sets out on a journey of discovery – a journey that threatens Soul control on Earth.
The trailers for The Host feature a high-speed chase, gun fights, and quick action cuts, but it’s important to note that the film, along with the book, is romance first, sci-fi storyline second. As a result, anyone who decried Twilight for its glittering vampires will not likely experience a significant change of heart when faced with grey-eyed aliens since the romantic subplots are on-the-nose and there’s plenty of eye rolling dialogue (lines that might work on a book page but not when spoken out loud in a film scene).
The Host keeps a narrow focal point, only hinting at overarching Soul mythology, their invasion, and the human resistance, in an effort to explore the Wanderer character story – as well as her complicated relationship with host Melanie Stryder. This focus will not be satisfying for moviegoers expecting a fully-realized science fiction world (especially one with a lot of action) but that doesn’t mean The Host fails to deliver a worthwhile experience for its target audience.
Certain filmgoers will balk at the sight of Meyer’s name but The Host is an adequate (albeit significantly flawed) character story with solid cinematography and a competent lead performance from Saoirse Ronan. The (few) action beats are clunky and underwhelming but writer/director Andrew Niccol (In Time, Gattaca) mostly captures the emotional journey of Wanderer with a few charming moments and a sense of wonder that makes some of Meyer’s more outrageous novel ideas plausible as they transfer to film.
Viewers don’t get to see much of post-invasion Earth but Niccol offers some intriguing juxtapositions between Soul and human life without taking too many detours from the core character story – and for good reason. Where the central narrative is relatively focused, nearly every supporting character arc is thin and underdeveloped, leaving side players with nothing but one-note roles to flesh out.
The most unfortunate example is Diane Kruger’s Seeker character – who spends most of the film aimlessly searching for Wanderer and the human rebels. However, The Host only makes passing attempts to dig into the character’s motivations – resulting in mismanaged opportunities that actually muddle, instead of strengthen, thematic potential in the Seeker along with the larger Soul versus human conflict.
Similarly, the roster of human rebels (which includes performances from William Hurt, Max Irons, and Frances Fisher, among others) is full of familiar personalities that are mostly exposition machines – designed to educate viewers about Meyer’s version of post-apocalytpic Earth or communicate specific perspectives on a variety of heavy-handed themes (racism, moral ambiguity, etc). Aside from Wanderer’s arc, nearly all of the central ideas about love, friendship, sisterhood, and violence, are told to the audience in dialogue, not developed over time on screen.
Still, an especially awkward element of The Host is the external/internal conversations between Wanderer and Melanie – a clear example of why novel-to-film adaptation can be tricky. As mentioned, what works on a book page can be awkward on the big screen and while it’s necessary to the setup of the film, much of the internal Melanie dialogue is distracting, undercutting what is otherwise a solid portrayal from Ronan. The disembodied Melanie enjoys a couple worthwhile moments, making the best of a complicated story component, but for viewers who haven’t read the book, the internal dialogue scenes will be jarring at times (if not outright laughable during others).
Despite its shortcomings, The Host is a passable film that should be able to entertain a segment of viewers that were turned-off by the melodramatic Twilight series (while fully catering to Twi-Hard faithfuls). Even with a body-snatching sci-fi premise, The Host is a much more grounded film experience, prioritizing its central character story over the more sensational plot beats. Romantic relationships as well as supporting characters are thinly-drawn and anyone hoping for an multifaceted science fiction world will walk away disappointed. Yet, the central Soul setup, along with solid cinematography and competent performances, should be enough to kick-off a full Host film trilogy – and maybe even win over a few Stephenie Meyer skeptics.
If you’re still on the fence about The Host, check out the trailer below:
The Host runs 125 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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