Once-promising filmmaker Andrew Niccol continues his free fall with The Host, an overlong and simplistic sci-fi dud. Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer and blatantly pandering to fans of her Twilight saga, it’s consistent with the author’s track record of skeletal narratives, whiny characters, and corny romance. That the man responsible for Gattaca and The Truman Show is unable to milk the content for a fraction of entertainment is likely due more to the source material’s shortcomings than his own, but the results are disconcerting nonetheless.
In the film’s undefined future, condescending aliens inhabit human bodies to prove that they best know how to live on Earth. Clad in a shiny white wardrobe and driving stainless steel vehicles (an oddly dated sci-fi look), high-ranking officers known as Seekers, well, seek out remaining old-school fleshies and take them over. Niccol reveals all of the above through cheap expository dialogue as The Seeker (Diane Kruger) initiates long-traveling entity Wanderer, now operating the body of rogue human Melanie (Saoirse Ronan). What neither E.T. expects is that Melanie isn’t quite gone and won’t go down without a drawn-out, irritating fight.
Stuck in her old head, Melanie’s echo chamber voice catches Wanderer off guard, and for no reason besides an assumed universal empathy (shared by none of her kind), she entertains the human’s pleas for mercy with quasi-robotic retorts. After a few minutes of these grating exchanges, one can’t help but imagine the inner dialogue working far better on the page. As with the nails-on-chalkboard child ramblings and constant tambourine of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Host’s core drama translates poorly to the screen, as does its tangential aspects.
Melanie’s and Wanderer’s inner ramblings lead to a hurried reunion with Melanie’s uncle Jeb (a bored William Hurt), who oversees a human hideaway in an intricate desert cavern. Though the pursuant aliens appear intelligent, they’re somehow unable to deduct that a well-traveled dirt road, the only one around, might lead to the rebels’ secret base. Inside the bunker, all sorts of bland drama unfolds, including Wanderer (now called Wanda) developing romantic inclinations that contradict those of Melanie. Accompanied by their ridiculous chatter, none of it amounts to more than entry-level teenage soap opera and makes for an interminable slog.
Over-scored by Antonio Pinto’s heavy strings, which were similarly out of place in Snitch, The Host flops as sci-fi, romance, youth drama, thriller, and any other aim it may have had. The most troubling aspect, however, is that there may be future adventures with these unappealing creations. The film’s unnecessary coda suggests that the saga is far from complete, and for that revelation I must recant my original statement. Instead of failing on all fronts, this open door makes the film an unintentional success as a psychological horror, one that’s sure to haunt its viewers for the rest of their days.
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence.
The Host is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.