Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Chandler Canterbury, Frances Fisher, Stephen Rider and Scott Lawrence.
Writer: Andrew Niccol (based upon the novel by Stephenie Meyer)
Director: Andrew Niccol
New Zealander Andrew Niccol’s adaptation of Twilight author Stephenie Meyer’s The Host affords him a third vision of a super-stylish future after the genre classic Gattaca and the insipid mess In Time. Taking as its focus the conflicted internal duality of a teenage girl within a dystopic science-fiction context, it is a bold take on teen alienation that has resulted in a flawed but not entirely uninteresting drama.
Saoirse Ronan, an actress capable of exhibiting maturity and emotion beyond her age, plays Melanie, one of the last remaining humans after an invasion by an intergalactic force has slyly assumed control of mankind’s minds and bodies. Those taken by the well-meaning invaders, recognisable by their bright blue eyes, always drive to the speed limit and never lie or fight; such conformity was never going to sit well with a teenage girl. Having lived life on the lam with little brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and fellow refugee Jared (Max Irons), we meet her when all seems lost; Melanie has been seized by The Seeker (Diane Kruger) and has been implanted.
But Melanie’s soul/mind refuses to be conquered and enters into a tug’o’war with her new self for control of both the information in her memory that will lead The Seeker to a human outpost and a moral centre that may sway the alien within (dubbed The Wanderer, or ‘Wanda’ for short). Melanie leads Wanda back to the outpost, run by tough but fair Uncle Jed (William Hurt), and sets about teaching humans and aliens that we can, in fact, all just get along.
Far to light on dramatics to sustain its often laborious 125 minute running time, Niccol’s script never quite comes to terms with the ‘voice-over dialogue’ device that has Ronan conversing with herself for long periods. Occasionally, the effect is unintentionally comical, reminiscent of the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin split-souls comedy All of Me. The twin voices bitch with each other like two teenage girls, fighting over such teenage existential dilemmas as boys and…well, mostly boys, specifically the romantic quadrangle that emerges between Mel, Jacob, Wanda and outpost hottie Ian (Jake Abel).
But Niccol deserves some kudos for tackling a sci-fi/adventure aimed squarely at the teenage girl demographic. For the target audience, Ronan’s depiction of internal struggle will make a strong impression and the defining role she plays as both an object of desire and sacrificial lamb-of-sorts will resonate. Simply dismissing The Host as a shallow Invasion of the Body Snatchers/Romeo and Juliet mash-up would be to ignore how effectively it will play to large herds of mall-dwellers.
Niccol brings his usual flair to the film’s visuals, with both the labyrinthine interior of the human outpost (complete with slightly naff wheat fields and mirror ceilings) and the vast desert of New Mexico looking stunning through the crisp lensing of Robert Schaefer (Quantum of Solace). Had veteran editor Thomas J Nordberg reined in his director’s penchant for over-statement, The Host may have been a less plodding affair and far more palatable to the wider, Twilight-sized audience it clearly seeks.