THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
To borrow a phrase from the TV show “Community,” The Host is crazytown bananapants. I find it difficult to hate a movie this bonkers, simply because there's some kind of bottom-line pleasure in watching a story go to the kookiest places imaginable. Based on the novel by “Twilight” scribe Stephenie Meyer and adapted for the screen by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time), this is a science-fiction/romance hybrid that ultimately melds those two genres together in a way that is borderline hilarious.
The story is set in the near future. A race of alien “souls” has come to Earth and taken over the bodies of our planet's inhabitants. Only a few humans are left alive. The way to tell them apart is that the souls give their hosts bright blue rings in their eyeballs. Saoirse Ronan plays Melanie Stryder, a fighter in the resistance movement against the invaders. She is captured and implanted with one of the souls, but unbeknownst to her captors, she isn't fully dead. This means that both Melanie and her soul, known as Wanderer, share consciousness inside the same body. Wanderer's job is to tap Melanie's memories to find out where other resistance members are hiding so that the Seeker (Diane Kruger) can hunt them down. However, inspired by Melanie's devoted love for her brother and boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), Wanderer decides to switch allegiances. The two (or, should I say, the one) end up at a cave in the desert, where Melanie's uncle Jeb (William Hurt) harbors a few remaining humans. Meanwhile, the Seeker is hot on the trail.
In the early going, The Host is general science-fiction. It sets up a fairly engaging premise about aliens taking control of our world and leaving humans helpless in the process. Once it gets to the cave, though, the plot gets downright goofy. You see, Melanie and Jared are reunited, but they can't really be together because she isn't fully present in her own body. And then Wanderer falls for another resistance fighter, Ian (Jake Abel). In other words, two beings in one body are in love with two different men. It's not even a love triangle; it's a love square. Further adding to the outrageousness, we only hear Melanie in voiceover, her thoughts emanating from inside her body's head. This leads to many, many (too many) scenes in which poor Saoirse Ronan stands around pretending to listen to herself. When Melanie and Wanderer bicker over their conflicting desires to be with different guys, it's bizarre enough to make one yearn for the simple mopiness of Bella Swann. Because of this quirky set-up, it is very hard to take The Host seriously. Even more than being odd, the romance(s) are boring. These characters fall in love because the script requires them to, not because there's anything up on the screen to convince us of their passionate feelings for each other. Given that the finale hinges on who will end up with whom, this flaw is ultimately fatal.
The movie works better in the sci-fi scenes. There are some suitably tense moments in the first act, while the third act offers up storytelling insanity that may not be entirely logical, but is nonetheless amusingly bizarro. There is also something creepy about the blue-ringed eyes conceit. I like that Niccol didn't go overboard with things, opting instead for a nice, clean way of giving the soul-inhabited humans a slightly off-kilter look. Even if it ultimately doesn't do much other than prop up a dopey romance, the premise of these beings taking over human bodies – with humans potentially trapped inside – is intriguing.
Saoirse Ronan does what she can with a role that requires her to pull off this ridiculous “voice in the head” routine. It isn't her fault that the gimmick doesn't work. William Hurt gives what is probably the best performance, bringing some much-needed gravity to the movie. Max Irons and Jake Abel, on the other hand, are interchangeable. Neither is given anything to distinguish his character from the other guy's, aside from who they claim to love.
The Host desperately wants to provide a happy ending, which it does, in the most contrived way possible. Expect to roll your eyes. There's a compelling idea in here somewhere, one that sadly gets bogged down in Stephenie Meyer's ongoing desire to focus intently on all the least interesting things in her own stories. In fairness, though, I will say that the goofiness on display in The Host held my attention. This is not a good film, but at least it delivers some WTF? amusement.
( out of four)
The Host is rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.
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