There’s a common phenomenon that occurs when re-watching a movie that disappointed with its first viewing; the second viewing tends to soften most of the criticisms, because the viewer accepts the film for what it is, free of the hope that the film will improve before the end. In many ways, this phenomenon applies to The Host. There are a lot of corny conventions and dialogue that plague the film, but if viewers can just accept these aspects as idiosyncrasies, then there’s actually a compelling story underneath the silliness.
Earth has been conquered by an alien race referred to as Souls. These creatures invade the bodies of their human hosts, overpower the existing consciousness, and take over the body completely. The Soul then has access to the body’s memories and uses them to find more humans to implant Souls into. Since the Souls are peaceful and only seek to improve the planets they colonize and since almost every human on the planet has been taken over, the world has become close to a utopia. There are, however, a few pockets of resistance. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) and her little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) are two humans on the run. They meet Jared (Max Irons), another human survivor, and he and Melanie fall in love. Regrettably, the Souls employ Seekers who are tasked with chasing down humans, and when Jamie is threatened, Melanie sacrifices herself so that he can escape with Jared. Melanie is captured by a particularly relentless Seeker (Diane Kruger) and is taken over by a Soul called Wanderer. Unfortunately for the alien, Melanie’s consciousness won’t go gently into that good night, and convinces Wanderer to take them to Melanie’s Uncle’s (William Hurt) hideaway in the desert to reconnect with a pocket of human resistance.
The first hurdle that audiences will have to overcome to enjoy The Host is the voice over convention throughout the film. Since the struggle between Wanderer and Melanie is internal, audiences are forced to experience dialogue between Wanderer – who speaks using Melanie’s mouth – and Melanie – a disembodied voice. At first, it’s tolerable since Melanie has important information to share with the audience and drive the story, but it becomes grating over time as Melanie comments on everything Wanderer does. And while some films might handle this situation differently by giving audiences a visual representation of Melanie, like with a reflection in a mirror, in The Host she is only a voice. So if she has something lengthy to say, then all audiences get to look at is Wanderer’s wide-eyed deadpan expression as she listens.
The second hurdle is the treacly dialogue and gimmicks that surround the romance in the film. The Host doesn’t even try to represent reality even a little bit as the actors struggle to deliver dialogue while kissing. Novelist Stephenie Meyer has managed to one-up the traditional love triangle by creating a love trapezoid; Jared loves Melanie, but Wanderer manages to build a relationship with another guy in this strange four-way (or three-and-a-half-way) relationship. It’s not hard to imagine the aching feelings the characters emote given this arrangement, and the course their relationships will run. But audiences will have to endure while they wait for the inevitable to come to pass.
These obstacles notwithstanding, The Host does offer an interesting concept and dramatic themes that will engage any viewer. Human individuality may cause strife and conflict, but it’s also something that defines humanity and, therefore, is worth fighting and dying for. So to watch a small group of people resisting the overwhelming groupthink is inspiring. There are some logistical questions, of course, like how did the Souls, who are small, fragile creatures, end up taking over the Earth when they seem to require tools in order to invade a host, but cannot use the tools themselves to do so? Thankfully, leaving these questions unanswered won’t necessarily ruin the movie.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol’s touch is noticeable here, and the film definitely has a Gattaca vibe to it, ranging from shots of people working vigorously at computer stations to music-accompanied somber voice overs. The biggest reference would be the humans trying to blend in with Soul-occupied hosts. The humans drive around wearing sunglasses to hide their human eyes even at night. These fine strokes won’t mean much to anyone who isn’t familiar with Niccol’s work, but for fans they’re comforting reminders.
Overall, families and young teens will enjoy The Host. There’s very little that is offensive or objectionable, and the film promotes positive messages of acceptance, forgiveness and trust. There aren’t any amazing moments that stay with viewers, but the target audience will at least get their money’s worth.