With Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga finally ending, it didn’t take long for another of her novels to wreak havoc on the big screen. Having given vampires a worse name than they could ever give themselves—for being a group of nocturnal bloodsuckers—now Meyer is out to ruin our science fiction too. Armed with a decent idea, and a damn fine production design, this time she’s even got a competent director adapting her novel, The Host, but there’s still only so much one can do with her source material. With writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca and The Truman Show, but also Lord of War and In Time) calling the shots, I was hoping maybe this would turn into a pleasant surprise à la Richard LaGravenese and Beautiful Creatures. Of course, I was wrong.
The Host begins by informing us that Earth has been invaded by extraterrestrial body snatchers set out to “live in harmony” with humans — read: by taking over their bodies and searching their memories to root out any remaining life forms. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is on the run but has been cornered by Seekers. After she throws herself out a window, the Seekers take her in to be transplanted with an alien being named Wanderer. The Seeker (Diane Kruger) knows that Melanie can tell her where a band of survivors are hiding out, but Melanie is still alive in Wanderer’s head. The two even get to have conversations with each other — Melanie giving a sort-of voice over with Wanderer speaking to her out loud. My only guess is that they chose this route because the target audience would be too stupid to follow along otherwise.
What Wanderer does find out is that she was discovered ransacking a house for food at night by Jared (Max Irons). The two meet-cute and the flashbacks begin as Wanderer begins searching Melanie’s memory where she sees the two falling in love. She also discovers that Melanie will go to any lengths to protect her kid brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), while on the run after their father kills himself to avoid capture by the Seekers.
Soon, Melanie has convinced Wanderer to go on the lamb as the Seeker informs Wanderer that she is going to replace her inside Melanie. After escaping, and stealing then wrecking her getaway car in the middle of the desert, the “two” begin their scorching search for Melanie’s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), who has a clan of survivors hiding out, harvesting wheat, and killing aliens. Turns out that Jared is among them and, alas, the old love triangle turns into more of a square after Wanderer is renamed “Wanda” by Jeb and she starts to fall for Ian (Jake Abel). Now everyone must keep safe from the Seeker and learn that the power of love just may be the only thing that can save them all.
Most of what I have explained takes place in the film’s first half hour. The Host is a meandering piece of work that thinks long takes of people struggling to remember each line is romantic or suspenseful. Niccol’s glacial pacing makes you feel like you just finished a marathon. I could have sworn years had passed while sitting through this one. Production Designer Andy Nicholson and Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer do their best to make this the best polished turd of the year. But it’s all dragged down by the sheer fact that it takes place within a Meyer story.
Ronan is far better than the material, but all Niccol coaxes out of her is making the film feel like The Lovely Bones is playing over it. They say that few actors should be allowed to act in front of a mirror in film, well imagine that happening for two hours and you’ll know what to expect here. Niccol also gives us one of the biggest unintentional laughs when part of the group visits the store, aptly titled “STORE.” I wish I was making that up. Admittedly, The Host is the best Stephenie Meyer film, and I’ve heard that unfortunately, there is more to come. But no matter how polished Niccol tries to make The Host, a polished turd is still a turd.