MRR Review: "The Host"

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A parasitic alien soul is injected into the body of Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan). Instead of carrying out her race's mission of taking over the Earth, "Wanda" (as she comes to be called) forms a bond with her host and sets out to aid other free humans. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephenie Meyer, this sci-fi thriller also stars Max Irons, Diane Kruger, Jake Abel & William Hurt.
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MRR Review: "The Host"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 125 minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2013
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Genre: Action/Adventure/Romance

"The Host" is the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's first novel following the "Twilight" series, and the influence of the popular film series can be seen in several places during this film. Unfortunately, this makes it a bit too easy to judge "The Host" based on the successes and failures of the "Twilight" saga that came before it. "The Host" doesn't deserve that, of course, and it's best to go into the film without any preconceptions at all so as to better judge the film on its own merits. While shedding the "Twilight" comparisons certainly doesn't make it into a cinematic masterpiece, it does give the film a chance to shine on its own during its better moments.

The film opens with an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"-like alien invasion, with the twist being that the invasion has already occurred and the aliens have won. Under the control of the alien parasites known as "Souls," Earth has been transformed into a utopia where problems such as pollution, war, and hunger no longer exist. While this sounds good on paper, it does come with the catch of having an alien take over your body, so it's understandable that some of the few unconquered humans on the planet are in a state of open rebellion against the invaders.

The story centers on one of these humans, a girl named Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), who is on the run from the aliens with her brother, Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend, Jared Howe (Max Irons). Leaping from a window to keep an alien known as the Seeker from finding her traveling companions, Melanie is captured and infused with a "Soul" of her own known as the Wanderer.

The conflict between Melanie and the Wanderer is the driving force for the rest of the film, though, unfortunately, the potential of it is a bit wasted due to pacing problems, a somewhat poor presentation of the dual consciousness within Melanie's body, and a love triangle that exists largely for the sake of being a love triangle. Melanie and the Wanderer escape and travel to a hidden colony run by her uncle Jeb (William Hurt), and although the Wanderer (or "Wanda" as she is known to the colonists) was originally intended to hunt the humans down, she winds up becoming an ally to humanity's cause instead.

During certain moments in the film, things really seem to come together. Some scenes have good comedic timing, feature well-designed action sequences, display positive character developments, or otherwise just seem to work. "The Host" also has its bad moments, especially in scenes that are intended to be dramatic and show conflict between Melanie and the Wanderer but just come across as funny or poorly played. Unfortunately, both the good and the bad moments are by far outnumbered by unspectacular scenes that seem to go on just a bit too long or don't add much to the overall plot. It's clear that some scenes were intended to convey the idea of humans playing the roles of survivors in the war against the Souls, but too many scenes intended to conjure up feelings of survival just bring up feelings of boredom instead.

Perhaps the greatest disappointment with the film is the fact that much of what went wrong with it could have been done significantly better. Writer and director Andrew Niccol is no stranger to character-driven science fiction, having won a Saturn Award and several other awards for the script he wrote for "The Truman Show" and multiple film festival awards for his directing of "Gattaca." Even working from Stephanie Meyer's novel, Niccol should have been able to take this film to a higher level both in regard to its writing and in the way it presented itself on the screen. Instead, the film that graces the screen seems to fall short of the bar he set for himself with his previous films.

In the end, "The Host" isn't a terrible film, but at the same time, it isn't a great film either. It falls into that disappointing middle ground where the entire experience seems a little lackluster. You'll likely enjoy the film if you're a fan of the book or are hoping for something that's more of a sci-fi-seasoned romance with bits of action thrown in occasionally. If you're hoping for something that has a strong science-fiction nature or that is a bit higher-concept and falls in line with some of Niccol's past films, then, unfortunately, you'll likely be disappointed.

Rating: 3 out of 5