Film Review: ‘The Host’

Max Irons and Saoirse Ronan are very sensitive in "The Host."  Credit: Alan Markfield
Max Irons and Saoirse Ronan are very sensitive in “The Host.”
Credit: Alan Markfield

‘The Host’
Director: Andrew Niccol
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

The works of Stephenie Meyer are written off, and not unfairly, as moony junk, with sensitive pretty boys lusting, chastely, over pretty everygirls. But they’re weird. Even before the “Twilight”s take a turn for a biological rebellion free-for-all that would nauseate even David Cronenberg, they’re bizarrely interesting, slipping promise ring propaganda into a nice little sex picture about vampires and werewolves. One day semioticians will have a field day with Meyer’s “The Host,” which features a young teen’s lust literally suppressed, plus physical abuse and even a scene where our heroine begs her beloved to cut her.

Once the child star of “Atonement,” Saoirse Ronan plays Melanie, a fierce teen and one of the few survivors of an alien invasion in which extraterrestrial glowing cartoon octopi have overtaken humanity and given them weird blue Meg Foster eyes. As “The Host” begins, Melanie is captured and swiftly occupied, but her “soul” — named Wanderer — proves conveniently nice and weak-willed. Melanie can talk to her occupier, although her commentary, audible only to Wanderer and the audience, tends to be amusingly expository, leading to the silliest narration track since the overheard thoughts in David Lynch’s “Dune.”

Melanie guilt-trips her parasite into escape, and most of “The Host” winds up taking place at a socialist commune, led by Melanie’s benevolent hippie dictator uncle (William Hurt), in a pimped out cave that looks like the inside of an amusement park dark ride. This leaves room for more scenes of what being dutifully tilled than a Communist musical from the 1950s. A dye-blond Aryan villain (Diane Kruger) obsessed with capturing Melanie/Wanderer provides a little bit of drive, but as with “Twilight,” most of the screentime is eaten up by mutual emo staring. The cave is populated by three bedheaded rent-a-hunks; good luck telling them apart. One is Melanie’s old flame and another gets really into Wanderer, yielding not a love triangle but a love square, with a boy each for parasite and host.

But sex, as in all Meyers, is bad. The few kisses (no tongue) lead to violence, and it’s not hard to read the subtext into Melanie/Wanderer’s line to a prospective suitor, “It’s not me you like. It’s this body.” The real love, though, winds up being between host and parasite, which is original. Questionable but overqualified director Andrew Niccol (writer of “The Truman Show”) and Ronan give this more dedication than it deserves, but no amount of seriousness can obscure it’s profound and unique insanity.


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