Set far in the future, either in the glistening chrome world overtaken by aliens or the dusty desert hideout of the last remaining humans, The Host looks like exactly the kind of smart, almost-realistic sci-fi you want. But then there's the story to grapple with, and it's not so much a story as an endless series of longing glances, kisses and hand-holding, plus enough Saoirse Ronan voiceover to give you a serious Lovely Bones flashback. The Host is to sci-fi what Twilight was to vampire movies-- meaning, the kind of thing that will drive you crazy if you're expecting something even remotely resembling the drama.
If you've got the patience for a glacially paced romance, though, The Host has some strengths, especially with a wonder like Ronan playing the tricky dual role in the center. We meet her briefly in the beginning as Melanie, one of the last humans left on earth after the arrival of an alien species who call themselves Souls. Looking like glowing centipedes in their natural states, the Souls inhabit the bodies of humans, pod person-style, and can retain the memories of the people they overtake-- which is exactly what happens when Melanie is captured by the Souls and implanted with Wanderer. Melanie's still alive in there, speaking to and fighting Wanderer, and eventually Wanderer agrees to escape the Soul compound and hunt down Melanie's surviving family.
We're led to believe this will cause an epic pursuit, with the put-together Seeker (Diane Kruger) hunting down Melanie/Wanderer and finding the human hideout, leading to all manner of destruction. But aside from one very heavily promoted scene at a roadblock, The Host contains almost nothing but internal drama once Melanie/Wanderer arrive at the human hideout led by Melanie's Uncle Jeb (William Hurt). Unable to tell the humans that Melanie is still alive inside her (for some reason), Wanderer is forced to ingratiate herself into a society that's formed entirely because her species has wiped out everyone else. Not only does she pull this off, thanks to an innate "goodness" that we're told about but never shown, but she sparks up a romance with Ian (Jake Abel), a guy who initially tried to kill her but eventually warms up to the softer side of this invasive alien species. But there's also Jared (Max Irons), Melanie's main squeeze who's also wary of Wanderer, even as Melanie is somewhere inside wanting Jared to love her again.
Credit for being an interesting twist on the old love triangle, but The Host's lingering attention to all these mixed emotions-- all with Melanie's echoing voice spelling it out in case we get too confused-- gets unbearably repetitive, especially when there's almost no activity outside the cave to shake things up. We see the Seeker hovering in her reflective silver helicopter and threatening to find the human hideout, but just like the Twilight series did, Meyer's story avoids action at every turn, instead letting Melanie/Wanderer visit romantic caves or describe other planets to the amazed humans. Bits of wit in the production design, like the sight of a grocery store run by the ever-peaceful Souls, hint at a fascinating world outside of The Host's limited scope; like Wanderer and Melanie, you get itchy feet to venture outside and see something that actually matters.
Director Andrew Niccol, fresh off yet another intriguing sci-fi world bogged down by dull story in In Time, yet again shows his skill for building up a world and then doing almost nothing with it. It's not his fault, of course-- Meyer remains the massively powerful author of Twilight and changing up her story wasn't an option, even when Niccol seems to have no interest in the charged emotion of the romances that drive the story. The best Twilight films found cinematic equivalents for Bella's hot-and-bothered feelings for Edward and Jacob; The Host treats these as pesky requirements, but doesn't find anything interesting to replace them. It's not hard to imagine Niccol directing a sequel, in which the romances are set and our heroes get to really explore this strange new world. But by directing this one so flatly, he might have killed the chances of that sequel ever existing.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich