”Harrison Bergeron”, ”Fahrenheit 451”, ”Soylent Green” and a hundred other Nazi parables have done this kind of thing before. The idea of outsiders coming in and destroying our way of life is nothing new, and it fits in so well with the distinctly American sensibility of individual rights over the good of the collective (socialism) we keep getting the same story over and over whether it’s secret police or aliens, as it is here.
There’s also a strong theme that our bloody history is worth all we’ve achieved as a species – that if you took away the passions that drives humanity to war, murder and violence it never would have realised art, beauty and love. Orson Welles conveyed the entire thing in The Third Man when – as Harry Lyme – he talks about the 500 year Italian Renaissance and all its advancements where the neutral, non-violent Swiss managed only the cuckoo clock.
And it’s all minced through the Twilight filter, given a young makeover and turned into a romantic love story/chase movie (both of which you’ve also seen a million times).
We meet Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) hiding in a dark building, confronted by white-suited goons who look like the Village People Gestapo. Rather than give herself up she hurls herself through a window, barely surviving the fall.
Her captors are the alien race that’s invaded Earth and taken over most of humanity ”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-style, making everyone a passionless automaton (but who enjoy the latest in minimalist fashion and drive very cool silver sports cars).
When the being that now lives in Melanie’s body (Wanderer) is confronted with Melanie’s consciousness from within, Melanie resists the takeover effort as Wanderer learns about her history – going on the run with her little brother, meeting the bland, disposable, pretty-boy hero Jared (Max Irons), falling in love and fleeing to join a human resistance force in the desert.
As Wanderer plumbs her memories to try and learn where the resistance is holed up, Melanie fights, pleads and threatens her in a completely stupid echo-ey voiceover (that could have been portrayed using a much better cinematic device), trying not to give up her boyfriend, brother and new friends and making Wanderer sympathetic when she feels how nice it is to be human.
The stage is set for a climatic showdown where love will conquer all, yada yada yada. There’s a kernel of good narrative in here, but the first problem is that if you’re not a 17 year old girl, The Host isn’t aimed at you. Based on the Stephanie Meyer novel (and you know the studio’s priorities when it markets it as ‘from the author of Twilight’ instead of one of the best sci-fi directors working in Andrew Niccol).
The other problem might be partly with the source material, partly with writer/director Niccol’s script. ”The Host” takes a textbook full of oppression-story tropes and puts them all through the thriller ringer, mixing it up with a teenage love story and giving us a movie that’s part lazy ”Twilight” retread and part asinine, tween-friendly thriller devoid of effective thrills.
Of you can endure the whole thing without Melanie’s voiceover arguing with her on-screen alien body making you want to throw a shoe at the screen you’re made of hardy stuff.
Extras : Deleted scenes, commentary by Niccol and Meyer and a short making-of.