Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
April 2013

The Host

Vacancy

Vapid sci-fi thriller 'The Host' could have used a lot more curiosity, and a lot less romance

The Host
Open Road Films
Director: Andrew Niccol
Screenplay: Andrew Niccol, based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Jake Abel, Max Irons, William Hurt, Frances Fisher and Chandler Canterbury
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 5 minutes
Opened March 29, 2013
(out of four)

Stephenie Meyer characters have never been recognizably human, so it's only fitting that her latest cinematic protagonist is an alien life form inhabiting a human body. The metaphor practically writes itself.

In a way, you could read this character as a built-in deflection against the criticisms sure to be leveled against it. Sure, like another Meyer character we're all too familiar with, this one's behavior and decision-making have no basis in rational thought or common sense - but hey, that's OK, because it's not one person but two souls grappling for control of one body and one mind. (Neither one is rational, fyi.)

And you could choose to see it as progress that this time, the romantic angle isn't a love triangle, but a love . . . I don't know, rhombus? Let's go with rhombus. Two boys fighting over two girls inside one body. (Nevermind that once again, like a couple of other dueling male love interests I could mention, there is nothing remotely interesting about either one of them.)

And if you're being generous, you could see the character's vacuousness as an asset - a key feature that, along with her benevolence, makes her the malleable and empathetic heroine the story needs.

You could make all of those arguments in defense of The Host, but the pure superficiality of the storytelling makes an ironclad case against it. Because for whatever potential there might be - both in the premise and the story's central figure - it never goes anywhere with it. It begins with one idea and arrives at the same idea two hours later. From its clumsy introductory scenes to its have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too climax, there's not one insight nor imaginative idea nor genuine surprise to be found. This is a movie whose idea of production design is to wrap its sports cars in aluminum foil and dress everyone up in matching white suits. A movie whose entire approach to having two minds stuck in one body is to have an ongoing (and unintentionally cheesy) internal dialogue*, only to hammer the identity crisis home with possibly the most obvious, on-the-nose shot I have ever seen. (Yes, it involves a mirror.)

*Even something as campy as Norman Osborn talking to himself in the mirror in Spider-Man would have been an improvement.

Speaking of "on-the-nose," how about the "character" names for the Souls who've conquered Earth and inhabited nearly all human bodies on the planet? Names like Seeker (she seeks!), Healer (he heals!), Wanderer (guess!). Would a hint of subtlety be too much to ask?

And I haven't begun on the film's internal logic, of which there is essentially none. Or certainly none that holds any weight, since it changes from scene to scene. It's not just that an act or decision will be baffling, or will contradict the thinking of a previous scene - it's actually more blatant than that. A character will do (or not do) something seemingly inexplicable, and fully explain the thinking behind that decision - and the explanation will make no sense whatsoever.

In theory, there are interesting wrinkles to be found in The Host, particularly with how it treats the dual protagonists. The human center of the story is Melanie Stryder (Ronan), one of the planet's last remaining un-possessed humans, who is finally captured by the Souls while trying to protect her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury).

The movie doesn't really focus on her, but rather the Soul that possesses her - Wanderer. (Or Wanda, for short.) Melanie is a background figure; this is Wanda's story, about her free will and self-discovery. Like I said, rich potential, but squandered by insipid plotting. Wanda has access to Melanie's memories, and discovers her romance with Jared (Max Irons). But when she decides to escape her fellow Souls - notably the benevolently sinister Seeker (Diane Kruger) - to find Melanie's family and the rest of the resistance, she finds herself in a love affair of her own with Ian (Jake Abel). Complications ensue - though those complications would be a lot more interesting if either Jared or Ian had any characteristics.

Actually, I take that back. One of them is taller than the other. So there's that.

The problem with the flashback structure the film employs is that we never really get to know either Jared or Melanie; they're madly in love because that's apparently the only way Meyer knows how to define her protagonists. (In fairness, I'm basing this solely on this movie - I have not read The Host, so I'm projecting a bit.) With respect to the realities of target demographics, the romance is not important. It's of no real use to either character. It's not present because it supports the film's central conflict, or its ideas. If anything, it only serves to undermine everything else about Melanie - or Wanda, for that matter.

Melanie is described as a resistance fighter of some tenacity. And she's the sole guardian of her brother. Right there, we have two great angles for the character. But no - instead, she's relegated to being lovestruck, to the point of rendering her other characteristics meaningless.

Ronan gets all the mileage she can out of the character(s), but her performance only serves to remind us how much her talents are being wasted in this movie. She's too great an actress to be stuck in such a poorly scripted role. Along with a few nice individual scenes, she and William Hurt - as Melanie's stern but humane Uncle Jeb, who leads a pocket of the resistance from a cavernous compound in the middle of the desert - make The Host as tolerable as they can, one moment at a time. Still, they can hardly extricate themselves from the rest of the film, which spends two hours floating along the periphery of its own ideas, refusing to say much of anything about them at all. Or not knowing how.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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