Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ill-Conceived Invasion, The Host Disappoints.

The Good: Moments of character, Special effects, William Hurt!
The Bad: Inconsistent concept, Obvious character journey, Predictable plot, Most of the acting
The Basics: The Host lacks real consistency in its creature design and plot concept, making it a tough sell to serious science fiction fans.

When it comes to the teen supernatural romance genre, Stephanie Meyer (love or hate her works, most famously The Twilight Saga, reviewed here!) was the one who made the genre explode. So, it is unsurprising that film studios would leap all over her subsequent science fiction romance novel, The Host. Meyer sold at the right time, as the box office grosses for Beautiful Creatures (reviewed here!) and now the film adaptation of The Host seem to indicate. The market was flooded, though The Host (in its cinematic rendition, I openly admit I have not read the novel upon which this is based, so this is a very pure review of the film alone) is much more of a science fiction romance than anything supernatural. For the teen-oriented supernatural genre, the hopes at the box office now come down to The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, being released later this year to see whether or not the trend still has a pulse or is dead.

As for The Host, having sat through the teen-oriented science fiction romance film, I find my problems with it not to be the predictable formula of Stephanie Meyer’s other teen-oriented romance works or the problem that I was easily able to notice much more overt fundamentalist moralizing in the film, but rather that the creature concept design is far too erratically executed. Like Warm Bodies (reviewed here!) earlier this year, one of the fundamental problems with The Host is that it fails to realistically address “what’s special in this case.” Just as in Warm Bodies, the viewer is asked to believe that after half a decade of the zombie apocalypse, no zombie has ever before eaten the brains and absorbed the memories of a loved one and then encountered that loved one, in The Host the stretch viewers are asked to make is that no human prior to a teenage girl who has a boyfriend has had the strength to resist her subjugating alien spirit and/or that none of the other alien spirits have had qualms about taking human hosts.

Moreover, in the opening monologue for The Host the aliens define their conquering nature as a symbiotic relationship wherein they take control of new bodies to experience life as that new type of life form. By that logic, the aliens should exist as a subconscious – observers within their host – as opposed to controllers. After all, the only thing these aliens should be able to do to understand the human condition based upon how they are greeted with resistance is fight each other for freedom. In other words, the stated purpose and execution have some fundamental concepts that make The Host an unbelievable mess.

Years after aliens arrive and assimilate most of the human population of Earth by infusing their non-corporeal selves to human bodies, the last pockets of human resistance are in hiding from the Seekers. Melanie Stryder is one of the humans who resisted for a long time, but has been recently assimilated by a Soul (as the aliens are known) called Wanderer (and who later goes by Wanda). Melanie is resisting Wanderer and when the aliens want to swap Wanderer with a more aggressive Soul to find where the Resistance is hiding, Wanderer uncharacteristically resists.

Melanie guides Wanderer into the desert in hopes that she might find her brother, Jamie, to whom she made a promise to return. At the human enclave, it quickly comes out that Melanie is occupied, but her uncle, Jeb, protects Melanie and the surviving humans begin to learn about the alien invaders. Wanda begins to forge a relationship with the human survivor (the age-appropriate Ian), which irks Melanie, who is still romantically tied to Jared. While the humans are besieged by the Seekers, Melanie/Wanda and Ian must bring a wounded Jamie to a Soul facility for advanced medical care, threatening the last known enclave of human resistance.

What is much more offensive than the bland Melanie loves Jared but Wanda loves Ian romantic plot in The Host is how the film advocates a number of strikingly socially conservative positions without even being terribly clever. So, for example, the moment that potential infidelity is about to occur, the chaste and moral Melanie is able to assert herself to slap Ian. In a population of mind-raped humans, none of their hosts have before been able to assert their control like that?! Really?! But as Melanie struggles to be emotionally loyal to Jared, Wanda and Ian bond in a very button-down and obviously monogamous way, making for a blandly uncomplicated concept.

But then there is the obvious Christian Fundamentalist hypocrisy that comes up as the movie progresses. Wanderer is an ancient Soul who has been to many worlds. As the humans fight for life (right to life, yes?), Wanderer, exhausted, wants to be able to leave Melanie’s body. She wants to exercise her right to die. The resolution to The Host takes a predictably banal and conservative view, which completely neglects the moral implications of what is done to Wanderer’s right to choose her own destiny.

On the acting front, it is William Hurt who does the most to help The Host. Amid characters that are virtually impossible to care about in a world that makes no rational sense, William Hurt’s Jeb is cool. William Hurt is Jeff Daniels cool and badass in The Host as the crusty, but rational Jeb. Hurt is the voice of patient reason, but he totes a gun like the best of them and makes for one of his more distinctive performance.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his co-stars. Max Irons and Jake Abel play Jared and Ian, respectively, the white-bread love interests who are so bland they are virtually interchangeable. Diane Kruger’s performance as the Seeker is reduced to the archetype of the “blonde bitch” (what, Portia de Rossi was unavailable?!) who is cold and uninteresting as an adversary.

Much of the movie comes down to the carrying power of Saoirse Ronan as Melanie and Wanda. Unfortunately, Ronan does not land it. Much of her performance comes down to her opening her eyes wide so the CG team can put the alien glow to her eyes and voiceover work wherein she argues with herself to try to create the characters of Melanie and Wanda. Why Wanderer would have the same voice as her inside her own head is unclear and somewhat annoying, but regardless, Ronan’s portrayal of the young woman is uninspired and often stiff, making for a less-dynamic feeling character. Ronan has no on-screen chemistry with either of her male co-stars, making the romantic subplot feel very forced.

In the end, that makes The Host an unsatisfying science fiction film. In fact, I kept waiting for the film to finally reach the resolution from Star Trek’s pilot episode. In “The Cage” (reviewed here!), the aliens soon realize that humans are unsuitable for captivity and I kept wishing Stephanie Meyer and Andrew Niccol would get there.

For other alien invasion films, please check out my reviews of:
ID4: Independence Day
Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters
War Of The Worlds
The X-Files: Fight The Future
Alien Trespass
Alien Vs. Predator


For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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