One of the most important things I've learned writing about movies these last three years is to be more accepting of what a film is and what enjoyment I can derive from the experience. I was an ignorant waif who decided to ignore the Twilight Saga just because of things I'd heard about the novels. There was also my attempt to read the novels which colored my preconception of what film can do to transform the source material. What was once a poorly written text became a source of great amusement willing to poke fun at its own fan-base and take risks I couldn't have anticipated, resulting in two of my favorite entertainments of the '11 and '12.
So here I sit with The Host, another Stephanie Meyers adaptation. This time she is a producer for greater creative control and her focus has shifted from the terrestrial difficulty of loving a vampire to the loneliness of being a barely corporeal being traveling the universe in a silver egg. Great fiction stems from scenarios more preposterous than this, so with a good attitude I started the film.
Two hours later I wonder who had their heart in the project. It's full of professionalism, no doubt about that, but which one of the performers arrived at the set every day and thought that this is something that people needed to see? As the end ties one of the prettiest bows possible on a narrative I don't see how anyone could be gasping for more but I have been proven wrong before. For now it seems unlikely history will have much to fall back on when talking about The Host.
The film at least starts with an interesting premise and doesn't jerk us around with it. As the film starts the assimilation of Earth's population into becoming hosts for an alien race is nearly complete. There is very little resistance, just pockets of unbonded humans trying to figure out how they can remove the threat or peaceably go about their days. Even the aliens seem friendly and non-violent, even if they doom the former inhabitants of the humans they take over to exist until death as an unheard voice screaming for control.
There's real horror and interest available in that scenario, but instead it's used as fodder for another love triangle. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) tried to kill herself before being assimilated but her love for Jared (Max Irons) was just too strong and she starts finding ways of taking back control of her body from her new master. Ronan is perfect for this kind of role as she always finds a way to take a fantastical scenario and ground her performance deeply into the planned movements of the aliens.
As we start listening to the aliens try and get information from her a sad realization set in - this film is Exposition 101. Nothing is left to question about how the characters are feeling or what they are going to be doing next. This is done so explicitly that the doctor is named "Healer", the alien specializing in tracking down humans "Seeker", and Melanie's guest - who finds herself caught between the world of the aliens (called "Souls", by the way) "Wanderer". I half expected the parents of her eventual boyfriends named their offspring "Love Interest One" and "Love Interest Two" in preparation of her involvement in their lives but no such luck.
Which brings us to another problem. When Melanie convinces Wanderer to escape and find the surviving humans Melanie is ecstatic to find that her boyfriend is still alive and Wanderer slowly becomes attracted to another human survivor named Ian (Jake Abel). As metaphors go its not terrible given that some people feel like two completely different personalities when it comes to who they're attracted to. But Ian and Jared are completely interchangeable. They look a lot alike in the dim and dusty corridors of the last stronghold and neither do anything to distinguish themselves either as characters or as played by Irons and Abel. There's no tension because of this because of the easy peace between Melanie and Wanderer and the lovers blandness.
So the stakes for the film are very low and even by the meager standards it sets doesn't do much that's noteworthy. Director, and writer of the adaptation, Andrew Niccol still brings his good sense of style to the proceedings and even seemed like a good choice to do so since he's had success with thoughtful science fiction in the past (Gattaca). There are a few gorgeous shots - I loved the seemingly endless field of wheat in the hollow mountain that gets light from a concealed corridor that looks like a stained glass from a church. But some of the touches, like filming every flashback sequence with blurred edges, scream of more hand-holding and a director trying to stay interested.
The Host is a mundane experience with little of the interest or fun present in the previous adaptations of Meyers' work. If there's a sequel I'd love to have my expectations dashed to pieces. For now, that seems unlikely.