Stephanie Meyer (Twilight) moves on to a different kind of ‘vampire’: an alien invasion of body-snatching luminous jelly-fish with a penchant for white suits, silver sports cars and a passive, peaceful, perfect utopia.
Of course, there’s a small resistance force fighting extinction and for everything human; including the right to be hormonally over-excited teenagers, even while the alien police Searchers hunt them down.
As it is, we are on shaky Meyer teen-romance territory much of the time. While Ronan turns in a mesmerising dual performance as human host Melanie and alien symbiote Wanda, leading men Max Irons (Red Riding Hood) and Jake Abel smoulder prettily in the love triangle – or should that be quadrangle?
However, The Host is a much better movie than much of the latter teen fodder (Beautiful Creatures, Divergent, City of Bones).
Kiwi director Andrew Niccol (Lord of War, Gattaca, In Time), renders Meyer’s material as a fully realised post-invasion world in which the aliens take over human bodies and wipe the memories – and personalities – of the host. Except for Melanie. What do you know, she’s a fighter who lives on inside the prison of her own body.
Appealing to her symbiote, a two thousand year old alien called Wanderer – shortened to Wanda – Melanie manages to escape the city for the desert in search of her uncle, William Hurt (A History of Violence).
Hurt is the benevolent dictator of a human colony hidden in desert caves, with an ingenious self-sustaining, Jules Verne eco-system. It is one of Hurt’s better performances as the strong elder statesman, half cowboy, half visionary.
Naturally the alien symbiotes realise, that despite their well-intentioned efforts to bring peace, tranquillity and spotless white clothing to a chaotic human race, we’re not about to go quietly, which is why the Searchers exist to hunt down the remaining free humans.
Surprise performance of the piece comes from Diane Kruger (Inglourious, Troy), as The Seeker,for whom hunting down the stragglers becomes an obsession and a personal crusade, sacrificing morality and personal status within her own ranks. Kruger delivers a nuanced performance as the Seeker goes from efficient police agent to driven fundamentalist, prepared to kill hosts and symbiotes in pursuit of racial dominance.
To all intents an elegantly white-suited Agent Smith, The Seeker drives the chase and suspense side of the plot, while in the human community, Melanie has to stay alive under suspicion from the resistance and Wanda has to go through the life lessons of love, loyalty and snogging fit boys in vests.
The Host fits perfectly the sci-fi/fantasy teen-romance genre mash-up, invoking a little bit of The Matrix and a lot of Logan’s Run. Under Niccol’s direction, there is bags of atmosphere, tension and suspense, recalling his best work so far, the low-key sci-fi thriller-romance Gatacca. This could have gone down the blow-em-up CGI action-fest of Divergent. Instead the few restrained action set-pieces serve the plot, giving us a movie that is all character-driven, glued together by the unusual Melanie/Wanda conflict going on inside Ronan’s expressive features. When Ronan breaks out of the teen roles, Oscars are sure to follow. RC
The Host (2013)
Running time: 2 hr. 6 min.
Genre: Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel, Ian, Chandler Canterbury, Diane Kruger, Frances Fisher, William Hurt
Related: Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)