The Host (2013)
Given the billions of dollars earned by the Twilight saga, it was only inevitable that one of Stephenie Meyer’s other novels would get adapted into a film. In The Host, Meyer does for the alien invasion genre what she did for vampires and werewolves: she takes away everything you love about it, stuffs it with her own bizarre mythology, and uses it mostly to create a love triangle and romantic angst.
The movie begins with a voiceover informing us that the earth is now completely at peace and the environment is thriving and healthy. This is because human beings aren’t exactly human anymore. In fact, almost the entire species has been taken over by an alien race of what appear to be glowing jumbo prawns.
Each alien gets inserted through an incision in a person’s neck, where they completely take over the person’s body, with the eerie (though, kind of nonsensical) side effect that each occupied human now has glow-in-the-dark eyes.
However, a small part of the human race has resisted and formed an underground rebellion. The story cuts to one of these rebels, our main character Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), as she almost gets captured by the aliens. Although she tries desperately to escape by hurling herself out of a window, the aliens retrieve her body and heal her with their special medicine. Melanie is implanted with an alien, who calls itself “Wanderer”. The other aliens, most notably the domineering “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) push Wanderer to begin probing Melanie’s memories so that they can locate more of the human rebels.
Unfortunately for the aliens, Melanie is a bit stronger than expected and fights the takeover of her mind. Even though Wanderer controls her body, she can still hear Melanie’s thoughts (an overbearing voiceover from Saoirse Ronan that lasts the entire film), and occasionally Melanie can force her mind to the forefront enough to temporarily control her own body.
Melanie takes over long enough to escape from the other aliens, planning to go find her brother and boyfriend. She compels Wanderer to go on a long walk out into the remote desert, where they faint from dehydration and heat exhaustion. By pure luck, Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt, looking like an old, grizzled prospector) happens across the unconscious body and takes her back to the rebel hideout.
The hideout turns out to be a massive underground network of caves and caverns where the rebels have created an entirely self-sustaining commune. Also holed up here are Melanie’s boyfriend Jared (Max Howe), her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and a whole bunch of other generic twenty-something white guys who are obviously potential love interests. They see that Melanie has been taken over by an alien and immediately want to kill her, but Uncle Jeb puts a stop to this for vaguely defined reasons.
At first, Wanderer refuses to admit that Melanie is still alive inside her, also for unclear reasons. But soon, she reveals the truth, and everyone is quickly convinced that Melanie is still with them in spirit. From there, life carries on in the underground city, but the rebels appear to be losing their battle, as they continue to lose people to the aliens every time they venture above ground for more supplies.
During her stay with Melanie’s family, Wanderer begins to learn just what it means to be a human. And it turns out that Wanderer doesn’t share Melanie’s feelings for her boyfriend Jared. Instead, she falls in love with another guy named Ian (Jake Abel), much to Melanie’s disgust. So as you’d expect from a Stephenie Meyer story, we’ve got ourselves a love triangle. Or perhaps a love quadrangle, if you count Melanie and Wanderer as two people.
Meanwhile, the Seeker is hell-bent on finding Wanderer and the rebels, and has even started using guns and other human weapons against them (something the aliens have never previously done). Wanderer then discovers that, to her horror, the rebels are trying to figure out how to forcefully extract her kind from the human bodies of their hosts, but only end up killing them in the process.
So she sneaks into an alien facility and steals a few gleaming egg-shaped capsules that the aliens use to travel between worlds. With these capsules, Wanderer teaches the humans how to safely remove an alien (now called a “soul” for some reason). The recently captured Seeker becomes the first test subject, and they’re pleased to see that the host goes back to being her normal self after the “soul” has been removed.
This pleasure is short-lived though, as it gets to be Wanderer’s time to be removed from Melanie, but in her case, she prefers to be killed instead of sent off to another planet. However, the humans have their own plans, and implant Wanderer into another human who never “woke up” after having her previous soul removed. And the human in question is an out-of-nowhere appearance by Emily Browning of Sucker Punch and Lemony Snicket fame. You’re probably thinking the movie had at least enough sense to establish her character earlier on, but nope; this is basically the first time we see her.
Thus, the love quadrangle has been neatly resolved, with Melanie free to resume her relationship with Jared, and Wanderer, now known as “Wanda”, free to get involved with Ian. It’s really a lucky thing that Wanda just happened to get implanted into another young, pretty, female host. One has to wonder what would’ve happened if the only available “host” was a man, but Stephenie Meyer was obviously not going there.
(Also, one can’t help but notice how close this movie’s premise is to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode of the same name that introduced the Trill, a very similar body-switching race of aliens. This can’t be a coincidence, can it? And that episode actually did attempt a sex change plot twist, but chickened out in the end as well.)
And so, the humans find hope in existence again. They come out of hiding for the first time in years, and the movie ends with the suggestion that humanity will eventually take back the planet.
Despite the premise, if you’re looking for a movie about an alien invasion, then steer clear of this slow-moving mess. Just like Twilight, this movie is meant to primarily be a romance, and everything else is just kind of window dressing. Of course, it might help if the romance were actually believable. But when Ian goes from wanting to kill Wanderer to wanting to make out with her, it’s mostly just strange and abrupt. You’d expect Jared to get jealous, but instead we get a lot of awkward scenes where you’re not really sure if he hates Ian kissing on his girl or is totally indifferent to it. And it’s safe to say there isn’t a lot of chemistry going on in either relationship, and not enough backstory to root for either relationship to work out.
Another area where the movie is lacking is in the whole internal conflict between Melanie and her uninvited guest. The movie keeps telling us repeatedly that Melanie is strong, and is in fact stronger than most other humans implanted with hosts. And yet, Melanie eventually just submits to the will of Wanderer, and the only real disagreements between them are when boys are involved (just in case you needed reminding that you’re watching a movie made for teens). Melanie even disappears from Wanderer’s consciousness for three days, somehow, and then immediately returns in a scene that, of course, involves more kissing.
If you’re thinking the action scenes might make this movie palatable, you’d be wrong. There’s one major action scene in the entire movie, which still leaves quite a bit to be desired. And you don’t even get the pleasure of the usual big, explosive finale that you’d expect from a movie like this. Instead, we’re only left with the suggestion that the humans will eventually rise up against the alien invaders, but even that doesn’t look too promising.
And those who enjoyed the novel probably shouldn’t get their hopes up. This movie is lacking in a whole lot of the finer details, and missing some major plot points. This isn’t unusual for a book to movie translation, but considering the two-hour plus runtime, it seems like they could have kept a lot more of the book than they did.
Instead, we’re left with a rather lengthy story where people mope around caves for days on end and nothing really happens outside of the main character’s head. The movie is so lacking in plot and chemistry between its leads that one might actually be better off watching the Twilight series, and that’s a truly sad statement.
[—This review contains additional material by Dr. Winston O’Boogie.]