When I went to the cinema to watch The Host with my friend, I didn’t know what to expect. I heard lots of negative reviews of the film, but I’m not gonna immediately take the word of film critics just because they’re film critics. I’m gonna make-up my own mind. And my friend said she liked the book. So how I was going to react, whether I was going to be bored or whether I was gonna make fun of the movie, or whether I was gonna like it or dislike it, I really had absolutely no idea… So all I did was sit back with my friend in the movie theater and watch The Host.
In the future, an alien race named the Souls have taken over most of Earth and their inhabitants after they considered humans too violent to deserve the planet. They’re implanted onto a host body by being placed inside the back of their brain and keep their knowledge and memories, but eventually the person’s consciousness gets erased. One of these Souls recently arrives on Earth and takes over the body of a teenage girl, of course, named Melanie (played by Saoirse Ronan). The Soul calls herself Wanderer, who changes her name to Wanda afterwards, and she finds out that the human host’s consciousness is still there and refuses to cooperate with her takeover. Eventually she is pursued by the Seeker (played by Diane Kruger) and Wanda finds her family and friends who most have trouble trusting her and believe Melanie to be dead.
So what did I think of The Host? Well… it’s bad, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I mean, I enjoyed it, but I know it’s not good. I honestly didn’t have a bad time, yet I do see exactly what people have to complain and despise about in this film.
Let’s start with the positive stuff. What did I like from The Host? Stephanie Meyer is a huge fan of science fiction, so it’s no wonder she’d tackle a genre she likes. But how does Meyer’s take on the sci-fi genre hold up? Here I think she did it ok. Nothing spectacular, but I thought a few things were kinda clever. The Souls are actually not the typical aliens like big and strong, or with any claws or beast-like appearance. They’re actually plant-like creatures and they kinda look like a microorganism. Their mentality is to be non-violent and non-threatening, as well as having complete trust in each other… which makes sense, because their appearance is that of a fragile plant-like being instead of an animalistic and violent creature. They respect and care about life, but at the same time they end up doing something horrible by taking over most of humanity and essentially “killing” people in the process (because they get rid of their consciousness when they take over their bodies). Their trust and respect for each other is well contrasted with the barbaric behaviour of the humans in the cave, which kind of shows the reason to why these aliens took over earth in the first place. They might be doing a better job at taking care of our planet than we are, and it only helps to understand our own world through someone else’s eyes. They’re both for the worst and yet for the better of humanity; they might just be more human than the humans themselves. I also like the fact that they’re willing to trust each other so much there’s no need to pay for money: you enter a store (the store is called “store”, which I found really cute and funny) and you can take anything you want just fine. Another thing I liked was the mirror motif, which was also prominent in the cinematography: the silvers and whites coming from any form of technology, science and something alien are contrasted with the reds and golds of earth (like the desert and the fields of gold) and the sun. It made the film more visually appealing.
We see the story through Wanda’s eyes, who experiences the world through Melanie’s body. When it comes to Wanda, I felt I could care about her: she’s polite, sweet, honest and caring. When others treat her harshly (she gets hurt a lot in the movie) I do feel for her. I can understand her motivations and her actions as she tries to understand humanity. She isn’t trying to hurt anyone, but realises that she’s causing harm to the people closest to Melanie by taking over her body, and this affects her through the course of the film. Saoirse Ronan does a great performance in that respect, and people could like the film if they see it as a story about understanding our planet, and our relationship with each other; learning how to trust, love, and learning how to survive, but also live with each other through the best and worst humanity has to offer.
After all those positive things I have to say about the film, what about the negative things? Yeah… about that…
First of all, the narrative is quite poor. That’s a problem with adapting a novel into a film: it’s difficult to incorporate every single detail into a feature-length film, and there wouldn’t be enough space to cover everything, even with a 3-hour film. Because of this, the story is either going too fast or too slow; sometimes we get very flashbacks that are too quick, and the rest of the time is mostly characters talking and doing stuff in their hiding place. Not a lot happens. The plot mostly felt like people doing stuff instead of developing story and characters. Like there’s one scene were the little brother Jamie gets a big cut, and it seems like he’s going to die from an infection, so they get the alien medicine, they cure the kid… and that’s it. There’s no tension or stakes, because he isn’t really in trouble if we know there’s an easy and quick cure for it. You could have easily had somebody else in that position. It was just an excuse to get medicine and another thing for a later scene. As a matter of fact, the villain plot is also resolved pretty quickly in the end. The story doesn’t have as many stakes as it should, and things are resolved too quickly without tension or any great pay-off.
Now comes the characters, which I don’t think are very good, except for three characters: although she’s not a fantastic character, I did like Wanda, the little brother Jamie didn’t have much of a character, but I liked him, and I did enjoy seeing Uncle Jeb every time he was on screen. It’s everyone else who didn’t have much of a character. I mean, everyone’s performances ranged from ok to pretty good (the little kid who played Jamie, I thought he did a really good job), but other than that I can’t say much of their personalities, because they don’t really have one. There’s the Seeker, the Javert of the story, who is really not that interesting. There’s an aunt who does nothing but get angry at Wanda until the plot tells her not to be; there’s no real development going on. There are these guys who hate Wanda (for being an alien and all) and honestly it’s hard to tell them apart. I couldn’t feel these characters truly interacting with each other, except for Wanda and Uncle Jeb, and maybe even Wanda and Jamie (but just because Ronan and the kid are good actors). That’s why people would get bored in the dialogue. Ok, it’s not that the dialogue was awful. The film did have funny lines here and there. The reason the dialogue doesn’t work is because of the characters.
Then comes the romance. As two people are in love with two different people sharing the same body, it isn’t a love-triangle. It’s a love… square. It could have sorta worked, as it’s a more complicated love than you normally get, but they missed out on the opportunity. One of the reasons is that they don’t have a character (they actors could have been switched around for all I cared… heck, some people couldn’t tell them apart because they were so similar in height and build!), and we don’t know anything about them or why they’re interested in Melanie and Wanda. The first guy doesn’t have a real reason for falling in love with Melanie; he sees her for the first time and kisses her because he hasn’t seen a human for a long time… a bit weird, I know. Unless they established his personality it would have made more sense. And the second guy… oh geesh… the way they establish his feelings for Wanda is out of nowhere! He hates her for being an alien, and tries to kill her a few times, but then he suddenly likes her for no reason! I guess the idea is that Ian falls for Wanda’s soft and kind personality, but that doesn’t say anything about himself, and it’s WAAAY too quick and out of nowhere! Because neither Jared or Ian have any personality, there’s no real reason for them to be in love with Melanie or Wanda, or the other way around.
Finally there’s Melanie, who I find problematic. I know lots of people complained about the voice in Wanda’s head, as one called it “too much inner monologuing”. I didn’t think that was a problem for me: it’s not an inner monologue, because it’s Melanie speaking in Wanda’s head, not Wanda’s own thoughts to herself. The main problem I have is Melanie as a character. I was rooting for Wanda in the story, but I can’t say the same for Melanie. It’s not just because we don’t get to know anything about her background, but it’s also because she doesn’t give me a really good impression. I know the idea is that she’s feisty and strong-minded (which is why her consciousness is still present), but most of the time we see her screaming and giving orders to Wanda. I wish I could have seen Melanie and Wanda talk one-to-one like two normal people instead of Melanie being so bossy all the time. There’s very little interaction with each other, especially when there are two minds present inside one person. Melanie did show off a few softer and emotional moments, but it was hard to buy because overall she did have a bit of a cold attitude. There’s one scene in which this guy attempts to kill Wanda: he ends up almost getting himself killed, and Wanda decides to save his life… but Melanie doesn’t agree. She has this attitude of, “Why are you saving him? He tried to kill us!” That’s too cold-hearted and mean-spirited for a main character. Besides, Melanie’s motivations are confusing as well. She promises her brother that she’ll return to him, but in the very next scene she jumps out the window to commit suicide so that the aliens don’t get to her… doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of her promise? Why not, in the story, have her die accidentally, and her body keeps a little life because she’s motivated to protect her brother? I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much of this deviates or follows-up to the source material. Still, I don’t know if a lot of people are gonna like Melanie in the film.
The Host… is a bad film, but it’s not as horrendous as people point it out to be. There’s very little substance: there aren’t many stakes, not many characters to connect to, some plot elements are pointless, and the plot structure is very slow. The film could have worked on paper, but the overall execution was very poor. But I had a good time watching it… Why? I think the reason for that is Wanda: she’s likeable enough, she wasn’t passive, she was emotional, and Saoirse Ronan was able to pull-off the character and the idea that there was someone else in her head. I guess I cared about what was going on in the story because I cared about Wanda, and that’s a good thing. And there were a few other stuff I liked: whether the alien mythos had been done before or not, I thought it was done well here, I like the look of the film, I like Uncle Jeb and Jamie, and some of the dialogue is genuinely amusing. There are bad stuff in the film, sure. There are things that don’t work or have little substance, sure. And people are going to dislike this film for these flaws, sure. But for the reasons I mentioned, maybe not everyone will hate the film. I don’t know if I’d watch it again, but it’s safe to say that one viewing was satisfactory, at least in my opinion.
Would I recommend this film? Not really. I say give it a pass maybe unless you’re a fan of the book and/or Stephanie Meyer. My friend who liked The Host novel said the film brought justice to the source material, although there are obviously variations to that opinion. To the rest of the people, they’ll mostly see it as a waste of time, so to them I say skip it. If there’s anything I’d recommend to everyone, watch Gattaca, which is directed by the same guy who directed this, and is a much better sci-fi film.