Its title, very graciously, doesn’t end with a “Part 1,” but The Host sure has enough plot points and ideas to fill two installments. Otherwise known as the movie based on a Stephenie Meyer book that’s not from the Twilight saga, this dystopian soap opera clocks in at 125 minutes, and it spends that time checking off couplings, conflicts, and wafer-thin metaphors like it’s on a shopping spree. At the start, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is one of few humans left on Earth, which has been overrun by a race of “Souls,” who travel from planet to planet aiming to “perfect” the foremost inhabitants (speaking of shopping spree, life on the Souls’ Earth is finally, hilariously unburdened by brand competition, as everyone shops at “Store,” where there are uniform labels and not a single price tag). Melanie is captured in the film’s first sequence, knocked out via a sleek bottle of Binaca labeled “Peace,” and implanted, very angelically, with a kind of CG protozoa, whose presence makes Ronan’s remarkable irises emit an icy glow. Making exposition a cinch, the new life form, which calls itself “Wanderer,” is tasked to locate and recite Melanie’s memories, giving “Seeker” (Diane Kruger) the 411 on the girl’s origins and family (Daddy took his life and brother Jamie’s still on the run). Things backfire when Melanie starts resisting, becoming the voice in the head that’s no longer just hers, and forcing her occupier to venture out into the desert, where Melanie’s uncle Jebediah (William Hurt), her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), and handsome hunk Ian (Jake Abel) lead the anti-Soul revolution.
An author whose self-involved daydreams are liberally poured into her work, Meyer has once again crafted a female fantasy with a heroine regarded as the center of the universe, and if her last fictional realm wasn’t leading-lady-centric enough, she now pulls you into the mind of her spiritual stand-in. In the film, written for the screen and directed by Andrew Niccol, this is an agonizing process, full of twee “self” talk and schizophrenic puerility, like watching Gollum on Wizards of Waverly Place. Ronan can be a fierce actress, and she has her moments here, but The Lovely Bones proved that her gentle voice can yield drama-dashing narration, and in this film, it makes her a gratingly precious guide. Like Patrick Swayze learning to control his spectral form in Ghost, Melanie starts manipulating some body movements despite Wanderer, while serving as her shared form’s conscience, saying such things as how the Seeker is, like, so totally “full of it.” More irritating than the infernal chatter, though, is that The Host doesn’t know what to do with all the themes it’s lugging around. Like an inverted Life of Pi, the film sees Melanie forced to live with a threat she can’t escape, and furthermore, face the limits of her body. The whole ultimate-inner-conflict setup is pregnant with potential, but it’s lost in the mess and left to fester.
The same goes for the strained prejudice commentary, which also gets the glazed-over treatment, as Melanie, with Wanderer inside her, is now a pariah among the humans too, and, together, the two of them get referred to as “It.” The simple, random inclusion of Hurt’s character’s pseudo-biblical name is proof enough that Meyer is a flippant yarn-spinner lacking focus—unless, of course, the focus is, finally, another damned love triangle. At least the Twilight saga’s Jacob and Edward only had one name to remember. Jared and Ian fall, respectively, for Melanie and “Wanda,” the name Wanderer earns once she warms up to the rebel colony. Suspension of logic and disbelief aside (for instance, if the Souls are implanted, who implanted the first one?), the excess and dialogue of The Host work overtime to discredit its relationships, and certainly, its sincerity. In flashbacks reinforcing the Meyer philosophy that women can own their sexuality so long as they’re fully surrendering to a man, Melanie is seen telling Jared that they “only have right now,” and that when he touches her, she doesn’t want him to stop. The pair then frolics to a country tune in the sunset rain, proving the only thing worse than a Nicolas Sparks adaptation is a Nicolas Sparks rip-off.
The Host’s one truly compelling element is the dimension it gives to its supposed villains. As is often repeated, the Souls aren’t violent by nature, and Wanda is just as horrified by the humans’ brutal resistance tactics as they are scared of being wiped out. But even this is hammered to death by a movie that just won’t let itself breathe, diluted to include yet more themes of sisterhood and unity. Like the white leather outfits worn by the Souls, or the furniture they took from IKEA before homogenizing its inventory, The Host is hopelessly sterile, undone by an invasion of halfhearted notions.