Generally when I pass judgment on a movie before I see it then see it and discover my assumptions were correct I find an immense sense of satisfaction, but not in the case of this movie. I had high hopes for The Host, the newest film from brilliant writer/director Andrew Niccol who made Gattaca and Lord of War, despite my intensely negative feelings towards the works of Stephanie Meyer, hypothesizing that the Niccol’s wealth of creativity and craft and casting choices in particular would compensate for Meyer’s lack thereof.
The film, based on the more obscure Meyer novel of the same name, is about a future in which Earth has been invaded and assimilated by parasitic beings called “Souls.” With the bodies intact but the consciousness erased, the Souls have rid the world of hunger, war, and pollution. Even so there are groups of resistance who fight for their freedom of mind, body, and will. The expressive and evermore capable actress Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, Atonement) plays the protagonist Melanie Stryder, a human who attempts to end her own life to avoid capture and assimilation. Unfortunately she survives her suicide attempt and is implanted with a Soul called Wanderer, a very old being who has lived in many hosts across many worlds. Wanderer is tasked by another Soul called Seeker, played by the vibrant Diane Kruger, with searching Melanie’s memories as to find other resisting humans. Unbeknownst to others Wanderer finds itself in a battle with Melanie whose consciousness is alive and kicking, two minds in one body. After looking through Melanie’s mundane and cliché memories of dancing around with her younger brother Jamie and making out with her boyfriend Jared, played by Max Irons who has absolutely none of his father Jeremy Irons acting talent, Wanderer begins to sympathize with her host and relents to finding Melanie’s family and other survivors in their hideout in the desert. Wanderer/Melanie finds them eventually, led by Melanie’s Uncle Jeb, played masterfully by the seasoned William Hurt. Melanie/Wanderer find Jared and Jamie at the cave hideout, but no one is certain that she can be trusted.
The rest of the movie dances around these ideas of compassion and humanity as well as creating a rather bizarre love triangle as Melanie loves Jared but Wanderer falls for the tender-hearted Ian, played by the mostly unknown but still awesome Jake Abel (who I would have cast as Finnick Odair in the Hunger Games movies). Though I haven’t read the novel, as reading Twilight was enough of a painful battle, it is apparent that Niccol pared down and reshaped the narrative considerably. Meyer’s characteristic indulgence in useless information as well as a menagerie of useless characters was sidestepped smartly without damaging the story. Despite the shoddy foundation of the movie, its writer/director and its actors, who add expansive dimension to an otherwise flat story and vapid characters. Even so, the film crumbles during the last act – and the problem is the source material. As it was proved extensively with the Twilight movies and now with The Host, the concept of nothing-ventured-nothing-gained holds no weight in these stories. People puttering around each other uncomfortably making hollow attempts to get their feelings across, whether positive or negative, then living happily ever after without sacrifice or loss is a maudlin, candy-coated, and Disney-fied recipe for a terrible story as well as being ultimately offensive of common intelligence. All the sensibility in the world couldn’t have fixed the story. But as for Niccol, Ronan, Kruger, Abel, and Hurt: many thanks for your valiant effort.