Earth has been benignly invaded by an alien race known as “The Souls” with the problems of disease, hunger, violence and environmental damage being a thing of the past. However, there is a last pocket of humankind who is willing to resist the control of The Souls.
When one of their number, Melanie Stryder, is implanted with a Soul after seeking to kill herself rather than be controlled, both Melanie and the Soul within her body embark on a journey to protect those who Melanie loves.
After the part good/part awful event that was “The Twilight Saga”, there was a bit of trepidation within me about investing some time to watch the latest adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s work – especially as I am such a big sci-fi geek.
“The Host” has managed compound upon some of the frustrations that I felt with “The Twilight Saga” because, despite the execution of the material, there is a good story in there waiting to get out. However, as I haven’t read the book yet, I cannot say whether the problem lies with Meyer’s source material or the film’s adaptation of the source material.
As a film, “The Host” it felt like the story couldn’t decide which road it primarily wanted to walk down – whether it was a YA romance story (more on that shortly), an alien invasion story, a chase story or a psychological story. This made following the storyline problematic as it didn’t get a rhythm together to drive the story along.
The storyline itself primarily regurgitated two staples – the alien invasion story previously trod by films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and television series like “V”, in particular the idea of a “Fifth Column” of sympathetic invaders, and the YA love triangle which was used in “Twilight” – simply replace Bella, Edward and Jacob with Melanie/Wanderer (Wanda), Jared and Ian.
As with the ending of “The Twilight Saga”, there was no real sense of jeopardy and peril to drive the threat that The Souls posed to the last remaining humans. Whilst I understand that The Souls are pacifistic in their nature and “colonise” to improve planets, there was no real drive shown by the humans to resist their invaders – even in the scene where it is shown that the resistance have been forcibly removing souls from their hosts which lacked emotional punch.
However, the area of the storyline which did fascinate me, and I wish had been played up more, was the connection between Melanie and Wanderer/Wanda. The reason I say this is that from the outset Melanie is our main link into the humanity of the situation as a member of the last vestiges of humankind, whilst nothing much is known about Wanderer/Wanda apart from she (and I am presuming that the creature is a she) is roughly a thousand years old and that she has been a member of previous colonisations by The Souls. However, as the connection between Melanie and Wanderer/Wanda grows, you see the alien aspect appreciate humankind’s foibles.
Another problem is that the main cast are given dialogue which lacks real “oomph” behind it to drive performances from some pretty heavyweight casting including William Hurt, Frances Fisher and Diane Kruger.
The two male leads, portrayed by Max Irons and Jake Abel, are written in the mould of your typical YA romantic triangle males, posturing away whilst one tells the other not to get involved with the female lead. Whilst I understand the motivations behind Irons’s character, Jared, being her boyfriend in her life before she gets implanted and therefore hating Wanderer/Wanda, there is no real motivation shown in Ian, Abel’s character, in his switch from a person who wants to kill Wanderer/Wanda into somebody who respects and, eventually, falls in love with her and I really wished that was explored further.
The real standout in this film is well and truly Saoirse Ronan in the roles of Melanie/Wanderer/Wanda. I have admired Ms. Ronan’s performances in films such as “Death Defying Acts”, “The Lovely Bones”, “The Way Back” and “Hanna”, and she follows this up with an interesting performance which would have benefitted a bit more fleshing out from the script.
On the one hand, she is given the interest of a psychological drama with her having to perform Melanie’s human side in the flashbacks and the scenes where Melanie takes control of the host body, along with Wanderer’s alien side such as not being used to using a human body and her fascination with Earth. On the other hand, she is expected to follow the cliche of being the central pivot of a YA romantic triangle with the dilemma that Melanie loves Jared, yet gets angry when he kisses her, and Wanderer/Wanda falls in love with Ian, which Melanie also objects to – in fact, I found myself mentally echoing Wanda’s comment that she’s confused by Melanie’s anger when Jared kisses her and Melanie’s anger when somebody else kisses her.
Truth be told, I would have been more interested if the focus was more on how the two aspects of Melanie and Wanderer/Wanda have to co-exist alongside each other as the driver for the plot, as this led to some interesting dilemmas such as Melanie asking Wanda not to tell people that she is still alive for fear that they will think that she’s lying or them having to work alongside each other save Melanie’s brother, Jamie’s, life.
The final bone of contention, is the ending of the film, or should I say the predictability of it. Whilst I understand that Ms Meyer has proposed that “The Host” is the first part of a trilogy of books, the ending of the film banks on that fact with the hope of a franchise to replace Meyer’s own “Twilight” film franchise.
What you get from “The Host” is a film where there are good ideas within it to make a decent film if the plot was brave enough to chart a single cohesive course, rather than try to be all things to everyone – whether it be as a sci-fi fan, a fan of YA romance or a fan of psychological thrillers. Unfortunately, the film seeks to tell a big story – I mean, the book itself is 600+ pages long – in the space of two hours, which means that plots would have to be short handed or removed completely.
However, what is has done has made me interested enough to read the book to see how the original story pans out in comparison to the film.
Rating: 3/5 (but a low three)