The Host reviewed – Dull, ugly and derivative sci-fi

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If you take Twilight, Beautiful Creatures and, now, The Host as examples, it looks like the film adaptations of Young Adult novels file away all edge from the genres those specific stories are set in. What’s left is utterly, well, blunt. If you’ve never been exposed to supernatural or science fiction cinema before, that’s good and well. You’ll have no comparative reference. If, however, you are a fan; a seasoned consumer, of genre fare, watching these movies is like downgrading your diet to one food group. It’s impossible to be satisfied because everything is just so bland.

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In the case of The Host, this sense of “seen it all before” is especially strong. And given the talent involved in the project – writer-director Andrew Niccol was responsible for Gattaca, In Time, Lord of War and the Truman Show screenplay – the disappointment level is especially high.

Based on the book by Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer, The Host is set in a near future where Earth is at peace and thriving. The reason for this? A parasitic alien race called the Souls have taken over the bodies of most of humanity. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of the last remaining human rebels until she too is inhabited by a Soul called Wanderer. Melanie’s consciousness doesn’t fade away however and she and Wanderer are forced into the unusual situation of having to share a body. Wanderer soon comes to sympathise with the emotional humans, but she faces enmity from both sides. The humans don’t trust her and a senior member of the Soul “police” – the Seeker (Diane Kruger) – rightly identifies Wanderer’s ambivalent feelings.

On paper, this honestly doesn’t sound like a bad plot. In addition, Melanie and Wanderer both fall for different human teens (Max Irons, Jake Abel) which transforms your typical angsty teen love triangle into a very off-kilter love quadrangle. These scenes are the most interesting in the film, but that’s probably largely to do with the fact that they’re the only ones that demonstrate any kind of emotion.

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The Host’s biggest problem in fact is that it’s just so consistently muted – deprived of much-needed humour and heart to enliven proceedings. The blue-eyed, staring Souls are an expressionless lot so they don’t generally react to acts of defiance. The humans meanwhile come across as bland Amish survivalists, led by the folksy William Hurt and Frances Fisher. In other words, it’s very hard to care, because no characters ring true. Ronan has a difficult role to play as is, but repeatedly the viewer is frustrated by the fact that most of Wanderer’s problems would be solved simply by saying out loud what Melanie is uttering in her head.

Yup, the stupidity level is high in The Host, with the audience subjected to a string of banal contrivances to drive the plot along instead. Wanderer needs another body if Melanie is ever going to reclaim her life? Oh look, here’s a spare. At the same time, The Host is the kind of safe, housewife-appeasing film where a young boy is handed a rifle, and the adult characters quickly clarify that they’ve removed the bullets. *sigh*

Further adding to the agony is how cheap and nasty The Host looks – like it was made for $10 000. The film honestly has the production values of an episode of Smallville. “Futuristic” and “alien” have been equated with hideous shapeless fashions and shiny exposed metal. The action meanwhile is predominantly confined to a plastic-looking cave system and surrounding desert. It’s an unimaginative aesthetic for a film that is 98% toothless (there are a couple of passionate make-out scenes, for the record). That The Host comes from an acclaimed, intelligent filmmaker like Niccol makes it even more of a let-down.

Sadly, The Host isn’t even of the “so bad it’s funny” category. It’s neither fun nor engaging, making it difficult to generate enough energy to lay into the film. It crawls along, and then it ends… all set up for a sequel that hopefully will never come. A big fat dud.

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Last Updated: April 26, 2013

Noelle Adams

Sometime Tomb Raider. Full-time Pop Culture fanatic and Geekaissance Woman. Most often spotted outputting Pop Culture opinion pieces, writing fanfic and original genre fare, cosplaying and bringing the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu smackdown. Editor of the Comics and Toys section.

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