I don’t want anyone to think I went into The Host with a chip on my shoulder just because it’s adapted from the novel by Stephenie Meyer. I went into it with an open mind, fully aware that the films made from Meyer’s Twilight saga weren’t exactly my cup of tea. Although The Host falls short in many areas and isn’t something I can recommend, it nevertheless is more in alignment with my cinematic preferences. It certainly tries harder than any of the Twilight films in regards to characterization and theme, the latter especially; trust, tolerance, and compromise, all of which come into play at one point or another, are subtexts I personally find narratively appealing, given the general lack of it in the world today. I also didn’t feel I was being preached to dogmatically, as was the case with most of the Twilight films.
What prevents me from recommending this film is a fundamental problem, namely that it works more on the heart than on the mind. Although it has been classified – in part, at least – as a science fiction story, it skimps on so many minor yet crucial technical, geographical, and even biological details, all of which would have added a great deal of credibility. This isn’t to suggest that the story had to be one of cold, mechanical logic; there simply needed to be a better way to balance the science aspects with the fiction. Specific scenes are highly emotional when they should be logistically plausible. It might have helped had there not been such strong emphasis placed on romance, which is at times displayed so shamelessly that Nicholas Sparks wouldn’t be able to top it.
The foundation of the plot is an alternate reality in which a parasitic alien race has taken over Earth and invaded the bodies of most humans. When an alien enters a person’s body through an open wound, his or her consciousness is either reduced to memories or altogether erased, and blue halos form in the irises. It’s vaguely explained that this race, called Souls, has been travelling from planet to planet and has attempted to live symbiotically with whatever species it takes over. It’s also stated in an opening voiceover narration that, ever since Earth was invaded, war has been eliminated, the environment has been restored, healthcare has significantly advanced, and a real sense of community has developed. The problem, of course, is that these vast improvements came at the expense of our individuality and personal freedoms.
Onto this foundation is built the story of Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), who has been unwillingly invaded by a Soul known as Wanderer, a name that will eventually be shorted to Wanda. Because Melanie has such a strong will to live, her consciousness remains intact, and she will repeatedly be an audible voice in Wanda’s head. Humans are hunted down by Souls known as Seekers; the lead Seeker, who isn’t given a name (Diane Kruger), wants Wanda to access Melanie’s memories and learn the whereabouts of a human resistance movement she was a part of. In due time, Melanie convinces Wanda to escape the Seeker’s watchful eye and journey to a remote desert mountain range, where the resistance she left behind awaits her return.
Members of the resistance include Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt), her aunt Maggie (Frances Fisher), her kid brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons). As would be expected, most believe she’s now nothing more than an evil alien entity. Some would like to simply kill her on the spot. Jeb, sensing something unusual in Wanda’s decision to travel deep into the desert, begins to suspect that some human hosts can indeed retain their consciousness; it’s because of this that he allows Wanda to enter the resistance headquarters, a series of caves carved deep within the mountain. Some inevitable results: Others besides Jeb come to accept that Melanie’s mind remains intact; while Melanie remains in love with Jared, Wanda falls in love with another young man, Ian (Jake Abel), forming a bizarre version of a love triangle; Wanda, who believes too many humans and Souls have been murdered, divulges the secret for extracting a Soul without letting it or the human die.
And so on and so forth. I understand the morality of this story, and I accept it. What I can’t accept is the general disregard for the technicalities that could have made the story more compelling. How is it possible, for example, that a field of wheat can grow deep within a mountain? Yes, it has exposure to the sun, but apart from one shot of rain, which is rare in the dessert, there’s no explanation for how it gets watered. No, the natural volcano spring running through the mountain doesn’t cover it; the temperature is too hot, and the water is full of minerals that would kill the crops. There are other examples, but I think you get the idea. Although The Host is a disappointment, you can see the effort being made. That’s about the best you can hope for with this movie.
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Open Road Films