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Host, The (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"Infuriatingly bad."
1 stars

"The Host" is fairly awful, but in some ways the basic fact of its awfulness isn't the worst part. I hate that it and "In Time" back to back make me wonder if "Gattaca" was something of a fluke on screenwriter/director Andrew Niccol's part. I hate that it wastes the time of some talented people, including star Saoirse Ronan. I hate that this was made in part to cash in on the success of the "Twilight" franchise (the source material is by the same author), but the fans of that whom I know were so indifferent to its existence that it probably didn't end up pleasing anyone. And I really hate that there are moments when the story has the potential to go in interesting directions but instead runs in the blandest possible direction.

Sometime in the future, Earth has been colonized by an alien race that calls themselves "The Souls", parasitic invertebrates that take up residence in the human brain and continue on in an idealized imitation of human life. There are some free humans remaining; one, Melanie (Ronan) is captured near the start and has a Soul implanted. Melanie, however, has an incredibly strong force of will, and has soon convinced the "Wanderer" in her body to flee and seek out her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), and uncle Jeb (William Hurt) - with a Soul Seeker (Diane Kruger) in dogged pursuit.

Put aside all of the lack of ambition in this movie, just looking at it as a basic sci-fi B-movie, and it's still hard to overstate just how boring and flat-out stupid it can be. There's a long period in the middle where Jeb and his group have captured "Wanderer" (later called "Wanda") and locked her up but never, as far as I can tell, ask her any questions. The audience is told the same information several times, and when Wanda & Melanie argue, it's often cringe-worthily trite dialogue. A fairly important change comes out of nowhere, only to be quickly reversed and half-heartedly explained afterward. Melanie changes her mind on whether or not Wanda should tell her family that she's still around inside her head several times for reasons that either make no sense or contradict the idea that Melanie's consciousness survived out of force of will pretty strongly. It's a barrage of things that make no sense that don't even have the virtue of being exciting enough to distract from their stupidity.

There are deeper problems, though, especially related to how the movie wastes Saoirse Ronan. In a way, she plays two main characters here, and she's got the talent for this sort of dual role; that's not the problem. The trouble is that Melanie is in a situation where she can never actually do anything while it seems to be beyond original writer Stephenie Meyer's ability to make Wanda interestingly alien; for a thousand-year-old entity that has lived six different lives on as many planets, she never seems like anything but a human teenage girl. This could also be on Niccol, admittedly, especially since he never really finds a way to portray their interaction beyond "voice-over/spoken line", or get into them learning to live with the possibility that they're stuck with each other.

Instead, they argue about boys. Sure, the idea of the weird love triangle/quadrangle/pair of parallel lines this creates is kind of interesting, although it would help a lot if Jared and Ian (Jake Abel) weren't two of about four similar blandly handsome young white guys. With the high stakes facing this surviving remnant of humanity, the cool science-fictional ideas implied by the Souls' nature, and occasional hints at satire or just general strangeness of the world after the invasion of the Body Snatchers... It feels like an almost criminal lack of ambition. Sure, you've got to consider the source; even if the book was supposedly Meyer's first novel for adult-adults, it certainly feels like a young-adult novel where someone's first love is so perfect and so much stronger and more pure than any love anyone else has ever had before that it can absolutely change everything.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that - it's more or less the same engine that drove Warm Bodies and Meyer's pretty successful Twilight series - but this just doesn't have the romance to back it up. It's capable enough in spots, sure: Ronan's a bright spot even in disappointing movies, and Diane Kruger works the precise, obsessed Seeker role for all that it's worth. The slick, "perfected" look of the Souls' Earth is right at the proper intersection of cool, disturbing, and kind of funny. It's kind of got a pacifist heart underneath what could be a boringly grim exterior and doesn't forget that when it's convenient.

Unfortunately, despite those few good points, everything else is bland-to-terrible. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised - it's not as if the trailers were promising, and it certainly wasn't made for me - but it's such an aggressively bad movie from a filmmaker who has shown such potential that it actually made the jump from disappointing to angering.

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originally posted: 04/17/13 12:31:48
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User Comments

4/21/13 Man Out Six Bucks OK we like stopped the alien autopsy. And we're sexing the aliens so it's all cool now OK? 1 stars
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  29-Mar-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Jul-2013


  DVD: 09-Jul-2013

Directed by
  Andrew Niccol

Written by
  Andrew Niccol

  Saoirse Ronan
  Diane Kruger
  William Hurt
  Max Irons
  Jake Abel
  Frances Fisher

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