Earth has been invaded. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is captured and infused with an alien ‘soul’ but does not entirely submit to her possessor. The composite girl escapes to find a last pocket of human resistance, which includes Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt), brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and boyfriend Jared (Max Irons).
Stephenie Meyer’s ascent to Queen of the Universe continues in this adaptation of her stab at science-fiction. As with Twilight, the commercial (if not critical) success of the book means the movie at least scores an ambitious writer-director (Andrew Niccol’s track record includes writing The Truman Show and directing Gattaca, S1m0ne and In Time) and a healthy budget. If it’s a curate’s egg of the impressive and the dumb, that may be the price of making anything remotely faithful to Meyer’s fiction.
To give the author credit, she does something with her premise that wasn’t in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Invaders, The Hidden or The Puppet Masters (all influences). The ‘souls’ who have turned humanity into placid, silver-eyed space Mormons aren’t an original menace, but the tangle of human and alien relationships around the semi-possessed heroine – the human Melanie does voice-over while the alien Wanda speaks out loud – is at least unusual. If it’s a problem that the three or four interchangeable ripped haircut guys who compete to kiss or strangle the protagonist barely register on screen, then Saoirse Ronan still carries the day. This movie realises she is so far out of most young actors’ league that the only way she can be given emotional scenes worth playing is if she is pitched against herself.
As in his other films, Niccol effectively envisions a future where cool hi-tech (aliens in silver cars and helicopters) is set against warm earthiness (humanity’s last redoubt is a John Ford Western landscape). Strong supporting actors (icy invader cop Diane Kruger, benign dictator William Hurt) carry the plot, and silly, tiresome stretches of teen-talk about feelings and holding hands often gives way to affecting imagery.
Though it trips over ridiculous, earnest romantic scenes – which will provoke callous giggles – and has a plot which collapses during the many slow spots when you have time to think about it, The Host isn’t completely dreadful. Ronan may be so on fire just now she can make just about anything work, but this still manages to rise above its source and be a half-way decent science fiction film.