With Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Max Irons, William Hurt, Jake Abel. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence. 125 minutes.
Based on “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer’s novel, THE HOST owes a tremendous debt to movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Puppet Masters.” These are stories where humanity is invaded by alien parasites who take over their bodies and lives. However, in the hands of writer/director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca,” “In Time”), the result is occasionally challenging, dealing with both the science fiction elements and the teen angst at the heart of the story.
Earth has become a peaceful planet with most of the humanity taken over by “souls” from another world. Only a few humans are still free, and the “souls” do what they can to track them down and claim them. When we first meet Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), she is fleeing from them, coming close to death. She is captured and healed and then a “soul” is implanted in her, that of a being called “Wanderer.”
What’s unusual is that Melanie’s human consciousness doesn’t disappear, but fights with Wanderer for control of the body. While Melanie is forced to take a back seat, the two vie for much of the film. The Seeker (Diane Kruger) had been hoping that Wanderer would access Melanie’s memories as to the location of other rebels, but it becomes obvious that Wanderer is ambivalent about this. Soon, Wanderer is on the run.
This is where we get into “yearning adolescent” territory. Melanie is seeking not only her younger brother, but also her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), both hiding in a secret human enclave run by her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt). The possessed humans are immediately recognized by their weird eyes, and so Melanie is treated as an alien “it.” Some of the humans come to realize that Wanderer – now called “Wanda” – isn’t like the other aliens and that Melanie may still exist. This leads Ian (Jake Abel) to become attracted to Wanda, and vice versa, creating a romantic triangle that may really be a rectangle.
As the humans figure out who they can trust, and Seeker gets more out of control, the science fiction nub of the story are two consciousnesses – or souls – inhabiting one body. The aliens turn out to be more complicated than they seem at first, although like the mythology in the “Twilight” series, it’s not very well thought out. If they are as benign as many of them appear to be, how can they be blind to the moral dilemma of eradicating a species by taking it over? This is something that the late writer Octavia Butler handled with far greater subtlety and complexity in her landmark Xenogenesis trilogy.
Ronan appears young and callow but handles the demands of a story where she is essentially playing two characters being torn in different directions. The payoff isn’t quite as satisfying as might be wished, proving both too convenient and a little too obvious in setting up a sequel. One hopes that Andrew Niccol could have the leeway to do more films on the order of “Gattaca,” but he has no need to be embarrassed by this effort. If making a Stephenie Meyer adaptation far less annoying than any of the “Twilight” movies helps him get his next project, it will have been worth it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.