Much like the proverbial crow or magpie, Stephenie Meyer seems to be attracted to shiny things: the glittering vampires of “Twilight,” for example, or the shimmering parasitic aliens from “The Host.” Andrew Niccol’s film adaptation of this more recent novel does a good job of bringing these creatures to life in all of their splendor, but any truly outstanding film relies on more than its beauty alone. “The Host” is indeed a visually stunning film, but with its underdeveloped characters, awkward flashbacks, and voice-overs, it has little else to offer.
“The Host” is set in the future on a seemingly perfect, utopian Earth that has been invaded by the Souls, an alien race that inhabits and controls the bodies and minds of humans. The film begins when the mind of Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), one of the last remaining humans, is inhabited by a Soul named Wanderer. Unlike most humans, Melanie’s consciousness refuses to fade away after being invaded. Instead, Melanie, speaking to Wanderer mentally, convinces the Soul to seek out Melanie’s remaining friends and family.
Although the premise of two minds inhabiting the same body is interesting, its execution in the film is awkward. While normal conversations are typically shot with a mixture of close-ups on a single actor and shots with both actors in one frame, a film in which the dialogue takes place inside a character’s mind does not have this luxury of variety. Instead, the conversations between Melanie and Wanderer in “The Host” are typically shot as a close-up on Ronan’s face with Wanderer whispering her responses aloud to Melanie’s voice-over comments. The visual monotony of these discussions is not helped by the fact that both Wanderer and Melanie are voiced by Ronan. The interactions become so tedious and dull that when Wanderer briefly occupies Melanie’s mind alone, one can’t help but wish Melanie would simply stay gone. Unfortunately, she returns almost as soon as you realize she has been missing.
“The Host” also does a poor job of condensing the plot of the roughly 600-page novel into a two-hour movie, and the emotional development suffers as a result. The actual plot is slow to start; until it does, the backstory is revealed through heavily blurred flashbacks, voiced over by Wanderer as she describes Melanie’s memories to the Souls whose job it is to seek out and destroy the last remaining humans. In these brief fragmentary memories, Melanie meets and falls in love with another human, Jared Howe (Max Irons), but the two characters exchange maybe 10 lines. Their relationship is given almost no time to develop, and their emotional reunion later in the story seems unconvincing. The development of most of the other characters and relationships—for example, the romance between Wanderer and Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel), a human friend of Jared’s—is similarly brief and lacking in detail, making it difficult to sympathize with the characters.
If “The Host” does one thing right, it is the visuals. If you removed everything from the film except the nature shots, you would be left with a tourism advertisement for some of America’s most scenic locations. All the outdoor scenes, glowing with golden light and saturated with vibrant colors, seem almost magically beautiful. The film even manages to transform the dry, barren deserts of the Southwest into a surprisingly alluring setting. The special effects are similarly well done. The feathery, glittery aliens sparkle delicately, and the electric blue gleam in the eyes of the possessed humans is pleasantly unnerving. Even the vehicles—gleaming chrome-covered sports cars and motorcycles—are stunning.
“We do not change this world, but experience it and perfect it,” explains one of the Souls early on in “The Host,” but the audience soon realizes that this new Earth is anything but perfect. Its revitalized beauty cannot make up for the suffering that went into the creation of this new society. In a similar way, the beauty of this film itself is hardly worth the suffering of sitting through its entirety.