The Host (2013)

(On Cable TV, December 2013) I read Stephenie Meyer’s The Host shortly after publication five years ago, but while I recall buying, reading and eventually giving away the book, I recall almost nothing from the novel beyond “romantic twaddle featuring parasite aliens and teenage love triangles”.  As it turns out, this also describes the film pretty well: While The Host features body-riding aliens having taken over Earth in a fit of benevolent eradication, there’s no real science-fiction to be found here: no extrapolation beyond base sentimental melodrama, no extrapolative surprises, no real world-building.  It’s not really surprising to see Meyer stick close to what made Twilight such a runaway young-adult success; it’s what she presumably knows and does best –but the real bitter disappointment here is seeing writer/director Andrew Niccol waste his time and energy by slumming in a framework so far away from his cerebral track record: The Host needs a lot of sloppy romanticism to work, but Niccol seems to have far more sympathy for the gleaming-chrome cleanliness of the aliens than for the messy humans in the story.  That’s fine (I liked the aliens better than the human as well), but when it’s played straight it means an interminable and somewhat silly film.  Saoirse Ronan does as well as she can with the material she has (and it’s a measure of her potential that her reputation as a fine actress will survive this film intact), but The Host is a clear example of how some aspects of a novel don’t survive the literalisation process of the movie medium: Having a protagonist engage in internal dialogue works fine on the page, but just sounds silly on-screen.  Saying that the film is aimed at teenage girls sort of misses the point given how many car crashes are crammed in a story that didn’t even have any on the page.  Some of the details are mildly entertaining (the cars, the ultra-generic “store”, the mirror-powered cavern fields) but there’s little else to lift the film above its basic problems: The dialogue is bland (try reading the IMDB quotes page and try not to fall asleep), most of the young men of the cast can’t be told apart, the story doesn’t go anywhere interesting once it becomes obvious that Meyer’s intent is far too nice (“You’ve been doing it all wrong!” our protagonist says of the alien-removing effort, “You need to do it with love!”).  Give me a year, and I’m pretty sure I will remember nothing more from The Host as a film than I do from the novel.

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