Noe: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of The Marshall Independent.
There are great movies, good movies, bad movies, and awful movies. Then there’s movies like “The Host” which are just kind of blah.
The movie is based on the book by Stephanie Meyer, a writer of great wealth and surpassing awfulness who makes every writer who can string a coherent set of sentences together wonder why he’s reviewing this swill instead of writing it?
“The Host” lies within the alien possession sub-genre of science fiction. A theme which has been explored in literature by no lesser lights than Robert A. Heinlein (“The Puppet Masters”) and John D. MacDonald (“WIne of the Dreamers”), and in classic SciFi movies such as “The Brain from Planet Arous” (1957) and “The Hidden” (1987). It was an important plot element in the “Babylon 5” series and the “Stargate” universe.
The movie opens after an alien race who call themselves “Souls” have invaded Earth and taken possession of almost everybody. Almost.
A few feral humans have managed to hide out including Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and her boyfriend Jared Howe (Max Irons).
While on a food scavenging expedition Melanie is found out and jumps out of a high window, determined to die rather than be possessed by the Souls.
No such luck. She survives, is healed, and her body given to a soul who calls itself Wanderer.
Alien possession in fiction is typically done by an organic being who attaches itself to a host externally or internally, an incorporeal alien much like demonic possession, or a corporeal alien with technological aid such as an implanted chip.
The Souls are corporeal aliens resembling bioluminescent jellyfish who enter the host through a surgical incision at the base of the skull. The logistics of how most of the human race got strapped down and operated on in this manner is unexplained.
Once in control a Soul suppresses the consciousness of its host, makes their eyes glow, and gives them an uncontrollable desire to dress all in white and drive cars with a mirror finish.
Except sometimes a host won’t go to sleep. Wanderer wakes up in Melanie’s body with Melanie screaming inside her head to get the hell out of her.
This conflict is noticed by a Soul named Seeker (Diane Kruger) who helpfully suggests a change of bodies, after which Melanie will be… disposed of.
Melanie half-convinces half-fools Wanderer to go on the lam looking for other wild humans, and winds up prisoner of a band which includes her brother, boyfriend, and Uncle Jeb (William Hurt).
Here Meyer attempted to introduce some interesting and original plot twists on the classic theme. And blew it.
One is that the Souls think they’re doing good. Humans are violent Melanie/Wanderer explains. The Souls brought peace to the Earth.
“They have made a desert, and they call it peace,” Gaius Cornelius Tacitus once said about the Roman Empire.
Another is that Wanderer develops feelings for a member of the band Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel), while Melanie within is pining for Jared.
Well, maybe an entity possessing a human body might experience all the hormonal urges of the flesh it possesses, but what explains Ian reciprocating Wanderer’s affections? That’s a thousand-year-old alien inside that pretty girl you’re talking to Dude!
By now, some Souls are beginning to question the rightfulness of their occupation. Wanderer switches sides, convinces the humans that Melanie is still awake inside her and starts helping them survive and fight back.
So after having possessed involuntary hosts on seven planets it finally occurred to Wanderer that taking somebody else’s body might be… you know, wrong?
Melanie warms to Wanderer and starts to think of their relationship as more symbiotic than parasitic. An idea lifted from F. Paul Wilson’s “Healer.”
Stockholm Syndrome anyone? Melanie or Wanderer?
Wanderer proves she’s on the level by teaching the humans how to remove a Soul without killing the host, first making them promise they won’t kill the Souls but put them back in their clamshell-sized spaceships and send them away.
So let me get this straight. You come to our world uninvited, possess our bodies and suppress our consciousness, and we’re supposed to give a damn whether you live or die?
Furthermore you want us to send you off to be somebody else’s problem, somebodies who never bothered us? And what does that make us?
There is much that could have been done with this. The cast is first-rate, the set design attractive, and there are good ideas to play with. My six-year-old daughter was very taken with the idea of having a friend inside your head.
The reason it doesn’t gell is like so many other failed flicks, lies in the writing. The least expensive part of the production.