Title: The Host (Film)
Written By: Book: Stephenie Meyer; Screenplay: Andrew Niccol
Publication Info: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy
The Host is a movie about a person trapped in a body that has been taken over by an alien (it's also a story about an alien trapped in the body of a loud, irritating person). In a similar manner, The Host is a really great movie trapped inside a really bad movie.
To carry the analogy one step farther, I went to the movie with the full intention to snark mercilessly and within minutes my fifteen-year-old self had completely hi-jacked my middle aged body and was totally entranced. So all the snark you'll encounter is snark that occurred to me hours later, when I was busy being forty again (I just had a birthday, yay me). Fifteen-year-old self thought the movie was great and despite all the snark I am about to unleash, I bet you'll fall for it too. It has a strangely hypnotic power.
If you Google “The Host” I'm sure you'll find hundreds of spoiler free reviews. This is not one of them. I plan to spoil away, so if you want to avoid spoilers, quit now! This is Spoiler Land, Where All Is Revealed including the WTF ending of the movie!
The Host starts off with a monologue about how great the world is now that aliens have invaded. It was probably very informative but I wasn't paying attention. This is because right before the movie started they played this really scary trailer for a horror movie (The Conjuring) and I was too busy peeing my pants to pay much attention to the actual movie I had come to see for at least five minutes. The janitorial staff of UA Arden Movie Theater will be pleased to know that I am speaking metaphorically here.
When I finally stopped my peeing in terror extravaganza I realized that acclaimed actress Saoirse Ronan was about to be captured by aliens. Run, Saoirse! No, not over there! Crap! Out the window she goes, so she can die rather than be captured, but she is too special to die (no one can explain how she's still alive) so her body is healed with alien medical stuff and this glowy thing gets put in her neck, thus taking possession of her body. This sets the big conflict in motion – Melanie, the human, does not lose her consciousness and is able to argue with Wanderer, the alien who has control of the body (both are played by Saoirse).
I have to pause here to address what is by far the biggest problem with the movie. In order for the conflict between Wanderer and Melanie to be compelling, we have to actually care about Melanie. Saoirse Ronan can clearly act – her performance as Wanderer is what single-handedly saves the movie from being an utter train wreck (Diane Kruger is amazing as well, more on her later). But Melanie is only portrayed in voice over and in flashback, and in flashback she has almost no personality. Plus, poor Melanie's voice over lines are horrible, stilted, clichéd lines that don't seem to have been written by anyone who wrote the rest of the script. I cannot over-emphasize how lame these lines are, and they are filtered through some sort of auto-tune that saps any semblance of acting out of them. To top it all off, not only does Melanie seem boring and fake, but she's also a total jerk. Even fifteen-year-old self was appalled.
Anyway, Melanie makes Wanderer experience her memories of her boyfriend, generic cute guy Jared, and her generically adorable little brother. Melanie and co. are members of the resistance. Diane Kruger plays a Seeker (alien cop, basically) who interrogates Wanderer to try to find out where the resistance is, but Wanderer escapes and goes looking for moody cute guy and little brother. Of course when she finds the resistance they don't believe that Melanie is alive inside Wanderer's head (or is it that Wanderer is alive inside Melanie's head?) and for a while Melanie instructs Wanderer not to tell anyone that she is still conscious. I did not understand the following:
1. Why Melanie would force Wanderer to find the resistance knowing that surely this would endanger the resistance.
2. Why, as soon as she found them, she told Wanderer to keep Melanie's presence a secret. What did Melanie think would happen?
Naturally, what happens is, a bunch of 20-something guys in various scenes punch poor Saoirse in the face, choke her, threaten her with guns and machetes, and, in the case of the only other woman in the group, snub her (ouch). Even fifteen-year-old self was startled at how many times Saoirse got hit in the face in this movie in between snubbings. I was also startled by her magical healing powers, which only apply to facial wounds (sunburns, punches, etc). I'm willing to cut the guys some slack because they see Saoirse as the murderer who destroyed their friend/lover/sister, but she's still an alleged murderer who weighs, like, ninety pounds. I wasn't all surprised that they kept threatening to kill her – that seemed like a good strategy. But all that smacking her around was a bit much. Fifteen-year-old self would like to interject here and explain that this is all OK because you have to endure suffering to prove you are special, but that's because fifteen-year-old self has not yet experienced years of therapy.
Eventually the leader of the group, Cranky Grizzled Father Figure, makes everyone stop beating up our Heroine and everyone starts to get to know Wanderer. They nickname her “Wanda” because “Wanderer” is “Such a mouthful”. This is where fifteen-year-old self really got into the story. Jared loves Melanie, and is a little confused because when he tries to kiss Wanderer, Melanie slaps him because she doesn't want him to want Wanderer, she wants him to love her, and she's inside Wanderer's brain. Meanwhile, this other guy, Ian, who is a dead ringer for Nicholas Hoult but, sadly, is not actually played by Nicholas Hoult, falls in love with Wanderer and any time he tries to kiss Wanderer Melanie slaps him because she wants to save herself for Jared. Poor Wanderer is just trying to keep up with all this and she is also sad because she doesn't think Ian, the Nicholas Hoult look-alike, would love her if he saw her true self.
As Wanderer says, “It's very confusing”.
Of course other things are happening. The largest sense of menace comes from Diane Kruger's Seeker, who is really stressed out about finding the rebels. Diane Kruger doesn't get much to do except look angry, but she commits absolutely to the role and I thought she was great. It was as though Diane and Saoirse thought they were in a completely different movie than everyone else – a movie with high emotional stakes and complex emotional layers. They have to create these layers through sheer force of will as opposed to through anything actually offered by the script, but by golly they give it their best shot. I have no snark to deliver at all about their performances, which elevated the material more than you'd think possible. The exception, of course, is Saoirse's portrayal of Melanie, but I think that was beyond even her abilities due to the horrible writing and directing when it came to Melanie's stuff. Wanderer is awesome.
Plot stuff aside, the main activity is Wanderer getting to know humans and humans getting to know her. Both Jared and Ian spend a ton of time gazing at Wanderer/Melanie with great longing. Fifteen-year-old-self thought this was great, but you can't trust her. She has terrible self-esteem. All she wants is to be protected (Hello, Cranky Grizzled Father Figure) and loved (Hello, two cute longing guys), and thought of as special (actual quote: “She is special”). So she is living vicariously through Wanderer/Melanie and thinks its all very moving. Oh, what the hell – forty-year-old self got all into it too. While Jared was pretty whiny, Ian was a great guy. He's funny, honest, and protective but not jealous or patronizing. His emotions are so raw I just wanted to hug him all the time. He's a truly stand-up romantic hero and I would love to snark about him but I just can't do it. It would hurt his feelings. He's sensitive.
Alas, this idyll can't continue forever. Sooner or later the plot has to go haywire so that I will have something to snark about. If you have read this far thinking I'm bluffing about SPOILERS, you're wrong. I'M ABOUT TO TELL YOU HOW THE MOVIE ENDS. SO DON'T READ THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW.
The Host is based on a book by Stephenie Meyer, the author of Twilight. Wanderer is no Bella – she is much more interested with saving herself and Melanie, and figuring out whether it's better for her to help her people or help the humans, than she is interested in boy troubles.
She ends up being something of a leader of the rebels. However, she and Bella do have some things in common, and one is the idea that it's better to be dead than to live without your true love. Wanderer decides to give Melanie her body again, and instead of choosing to float off to the stars never to return, Wanderer chooses to die, because she doesn't want to live without all the people she cares about.
But wait! Don't panic! Wanderer is put under sedation, and removed from Melanie's body. But fortunately, the rebels have a spare human body! Just lying around! It's the body of a cute teenage girl! How is it that I can't even find a ballpoint pen half the time and the rebels can instantly lay hands on an attractive teenage girl corpse? I'm frankly unclear on whether the convenient dead girl is actually dead or just mortally wounded, but anyway, Wanderer is assured that she can inhabit this body guilt-free. Jared is now happy with Melanie, Wanderer is now happy with Ian, and both me and my fifteen-year-old-self are completely weirded out by the fact that they had this other girl just hanging out somewhere (In sickbay? In a freezer? Under a couch cushion, which is where all my pens end up?)
I don't blame you if you don't believe me, but I really did get completely, helplessly caught up in this movie while it was happening. In fact, I was worried about how I would write a suitably snarky review. Then I started actually typing out what happened and I went, “Oh, right, this movie is ridiculous”. But you just have to relax and let the ridiculousness happen. It's all about peace and harmony and interspecies friendship, and I just love that stuff. Also I like that it turns out that Melanie and Wanderer are special, but not at all unique. My common gripe about stories where love saves the world is that I don't believe that only one person experiences such a great love that it can save the planet. It kind of diminishes everyone else's love. But it turns out there are other Melanie's and Wanderer's running around, smooching the enemy and waiting for the sequel, which I will doubtless be dragged to by my fifteen-year-old self.
I'm giving this movie a C+ almost by default – I can't decide if it's an A+ or an F. That's some range, there.
A sad postscript: I typed the last sentence, clicked on Facebook, and discovered that Roger Ebert, famous film critic, just passed away. Roger Ebert taught me three great things: how to have a civilized but assertive argument, how to approach material with an open mind, and how to reinvent yourself after a major life change (he did it at least twice). You'll be missed, and I hope all the movies in heaven earn two thumbs up.