THE HOST. Starring: Saorise Ronan, Jake Abel, Max Irons, Chandler Canterbury, and William Hurt. Directed by Andrew Niccol. Rated M (Science fiction themes and violence). 125 min.
This science-fiction film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Stephenie Meyer in 2008. Meyer is the author of the “The Twilight Saga” series, which has been made into a number of cult movies.
An alien, parasitic race called “Souls” has taken over the Earth and its inhabitants, and is trying to create a version of the perfect civilisation, devoid of mankind’s killing and destruction of their planet. The aliens’ method of attack is to erase the minds of humans and possess their bodies. Through possession, nearly all of the Earth’s population have been turned into passive victims – their bodies are at peace, and they have no will or motivation to resist.
One of the aliens, called Wanderer, has taken over the body of Melanie Stryder (Saorise Ronan), but Melanie refuses to yield her mind. Wanderer is called by her name because of the number of planets she has lived in, but she has never settled on one that she has truly liked.
The plot of the movie is one that has creative possibilities that are ultimately squandered. This film swaps vampires for aliens, aims to be more imaginative than the “The Twlight Saga” series, and to be more ambitious in scope. Melanie needs to give her life direction, and Wanderer supplies it. It is a neat, imaginative twist that Wanderer’s vulnerability is to sympathise with human need.
Melanie cares deeply for her loved ones. They include Jared Howe (Max Irons), the youth she is romantically involved with; Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel), his friend; her brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury); and her eccentric Uncle Jeb (William Hurt). They all live in a cave, with a group of other humans, who haven’t yet been “possessed”. Because Wanderer experiences Melanie’s memories, and she is sympathetic to human resistance, she forms a relationship with Melanie’s loved ones by accessing Melanie’s feelings towards them. She decides to free other humans, and resolves eventually to sacrifice her own life so that Melanie can live.
Saorise Ronan plays both Melanie and Wanderer, with the help of two different American accents. She handles the task of acting two opposing characters well, but she is incredibly hampered by some awful scripting that includes Melanie saying to Wanderer: “I love you – you are the purest soul I have ever met”. Few films can hold on to quality with scripting like that.
The movie could have played thoughtfully with the subtleties and complexities of co-consciousness in the mind-play of Melanie and Wanderer. There is a natural tendency in everyone to experience opposing thoughts, often in parallel. Here, the two personalities of Melanie and Wanderer personify different realities and the engagement of one (Melanie) with the other (Wanderer) give unusual meaning to the occurrence of conflicting needs. Romantic fantasy, however, quickly takes over. True to the movie’s youthful appeal, Wanderer begins a relationship with Ian, and despite her sacrifice for Melanie, she accepts being put into a new host body that maintains the romantic attachment she wants. But up to the point of release, we are shown two men confusedly loving different women, who occupy the same body but think separately.
In the final scenes, Melanie’s group comes across more surviving humans which include another Soul who has “turned”, just as Wanderer has. The plot development indicates clearly that this movie is the first of further films yet to come.
This is an entertaining film in escapist mode. Within the science-fiction genre, it is totally unabashed in its romanticism, and trades potentially thoughtful science-fiction for teenage romantic fantasy, almost at every turn.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out March 28th., 2013.