In “The Host,” the new film from the Stephanie “Twilight” Meyer’s fantasy factory, most humans have been “occupied” by a race of aliens who take on the bodies of their hosts. They don’t change the world, they just perfect it—there’s no hatred, no violence, no fighting and everyone is polite. Sounds like Toronto in 1956.
When we first meet Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) she is a human girl on the run from the Seekers, aliens in human form who have taken over the planet. To protect her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) she is captured and injected with a parasitic ET soul that resembles an iridescent silver fish. The alien, named Wanderer or Wanda for short, is now in control of Melanie’s body, but, using sheer strength of will, she fights back, winning over her alien invader who helps her find her brother and other human loved ones.
“The Host” is to sci fi what “Twilight” is to “Dracula.” The alien plot is an anchor for the love story, not the other way around.
That’s right, Meyer is back with another otherworldly love story.
This time around it’s a love tetragon between Melanie—or at least her consciousness—Wanderer—in the form of Melanie’s body—and two human boys, Jarrod (Max Irons) and Ian (Jake Abel). Mel loves Jarrod but Wanda loves Ian and Melanie’s inner mind becomes jealous of Wanda’s shell and her desires for Ian.
Asimov this ain’t. It does contain some interesting speculative ideas—ie: if our memories are still alive, are we?—but the framework is inherently uncinematic. For instance the push-and-pull between Melanie and her alien intruder is played out via a voice over of Mel arguing with the alien. Ronan has the unenviable task of not only delivering a massive amount of narration, but also reacting to it.
Then there is the frequently awkward way characters have to interact with Mel, Wanda or any combination thereof. At one point Ian asks Wanda, in Mel’s body, “Is there anyway Melanie could give us some privacy?” When she’s asked about having two souls trapped in her body Wanda says, “It’s crowded.” With so many characters trapped in one body Sybil has nothing on this girl.
Occasionally Melanie’s suppressed will physically manifests with a tic—she’ll force her old body to throw a pencil to the ground rather than draw a map for her Seeker captors—but instead of feeling organic to the character it looks more like an homage to a 50s b-movie camp.
“The Host” has elements of camp—unintentional probably—but it’s not “Plan Nine from Outer Space.” It’s an earnest story about love conquering all that is a little too earthbound to be called sci fi and a bit too spacy to be taken terribly seriously as anything but a Harlequin for teens.