Stephanie Meyer turned the vampire-werewolf mythology inside-out in her Twilight books, transforming vampires from undead sexy beasts into smug, well-dressed members of the one-percent, and giving werewolves an unearned aura of Native American cool. In The Host, she transformed the soulless sci-fi body snatchers of old into kindly, benevolent (if unemotional) souls who make Earth a much nicer place to live—for everyone but the humans, of course. The aliens take control of human bodies; the human mind, trapped within the greater alien mind, eventually fades away. As the film version of Meyer’s saga begins, almost all humans have been taken over by alien “souls.”
When humans are assimilated, they develop glowing blue eyes. It’s cool, though of course evocative of the old Nazi ideal.
Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), however, is still human. She’s a feisty young Texas woman we first meet when she’s cornered by a group of aliens led by a very determined Seeker played by Diane Kruger. (All the human-hunting “seekers” are called “Seeker.” It’s not as confusing as you’d expect.) Faced with assimilation or death, Melanie jumps out the window. Saved by superior alien science (because alien science is always superior, puny humans), Melanie’s body is implanted—neatly, surgically, behind the right ear, with a sparkling, light-infused, Slinky-like soul called “Wanderer.” Pressed by the Seeker, Wanderer immediately begins probing Melanie’s memories for information about other pesky men and women not yet subsumed in the alien tide.
Maybe it’s because she’s from Texas, but Melanie rebels. By pleading and force of will, Melanie tricks Wanderer into heading for the desert compound where her uncle (William Hurt) and a plucky, ragtag band of survivors are holed up.
If you’re wondering how Melanie and Wanderer communicate, poor Saoirse Ronan has to talk to her own voiceover. Ronan is a fine actress and does create distinct personalities, but it’s annoying.
Writer-director Andrew Niccol has a well established (Gattaca, In Time) predilection for sleek sci-fi settings filled with impossibly pretty people. And that’s what we get in The Host. Oddly enough, Meyer’s overheated, earnest approach to heavy-breathing young romance is a perfect complement to Niccol’s cerebral love of shiny surfaces, and The Host gets more and more entertaining as it goes along. When Meyer goes Twilight’s love triangle one better with a love quadrangle—Melanie still loves her old boyfriend, while the alien falls for another hunky dude—it’s as weirdly compelling as it is absurd.
Most of the credit goes to Ronan, who carries off an impossible part. But the rest of the cast is good too—not just Kruger and Hurt, who provide the acting gravitas—and so some credit must be apportioned to the director.
The plot reaches a dead end, and a tacked-on coda doesn’t help, but The Host manages to be engaging without being insulting. This is something.