When I saw the trailer for this movie and did some research on the book, I developed some expectation for this film. Despite knowing that it is by the same author as the Twilight series, I thought this film had a shot of becoming something more than its source material. This film had a lot going for it; a visionary director Andrew Niccol (who directed Gattaca, The Truman Show, S1m0ne and The Terminal), an actually talented rising star Saoirse Ronan to play the title role, and a sci-fi story I honestly wanted to see done in a big budget film.
The idea of extraterrestrials invading Earth by possession of our bodies and minds is nothing new, but I really like this premise, and to me the defining work for this sub-genre was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you haven't seen the latter film I highly recommend you check it out from the video rentals (not sure if they'll stock it though). I loved this film though I only watched it 30 years after its release, and I really wanted to see this concept revived and explored in the psychological dimension I hoped this film would explore it while using the invasion aspect to keep me in suspense.
Well, the movie does try, and fail miserably. From a movie sense, I would argue that this was far worse as entertainment than Twilight, and amongst the worst in terms of character driven stories I've seen on the big screen. But its biggest sin was not stupidity, plot holes or unconvincing character. It offended me the most because it took everything great about Sci-Fi films and sterilized the script till it became nothing more than a backdrop to present a soap opera played in slow motion.
A few people already warned me against seeing it but I really wanted to experience the film myself before I can dismiss it. I would say regardless of whether this film turned out good or bad or to my taste, I needed to see it anyway to end my curiousity.
As I type this I literally deleted 5 paragraphs of my draft because I couldn't elegantly explain what a betrayal this film was to the Sci-Fi genre. So lets try to do this as simply as possible.
Science Fiction genre films invite us to explore a world constructed from an author's creative interpretation of where science could one day take us, and placing characters in those worlds we hoped to see (or never see) become our reality, but has not yet come to pass. This is why Science Fiction has been saturated by ideas about our future, about the possible, the probable and the plausible. In the sub-genre of Apocalypse and post-Apocalypse, the stories are almost always about seeing how the human condition can endure in the harshest living conditions, against the mightiest and deadliest of foes, and come out on top through ingenuity, courage and sometimes, simple faith.
The Host invites us to enter a world where an alien race has invaded Earth by assimilating into humans, bringing with them their technologies far beyond that of Earth's, and providing an easy indicator of who is human and who is not. However the scenes showing a changed world counts for less than 20 minutes of the 2 hours we sat through, where the other 100 minutes we're trapped with Wanderer/Melanie in the desert cave and talking with other people and talking with herself.
The first 10 minutes where they spew out expositions and character back stories, and the last 10 minutes where you start seeing how Wanderer changes sides to help the humans, is probably the only "Sci-Fi" bit of the whole film. In between we get 1 car chase scene using Earth technology, we get a few small talks about Wanderer's background, and a small reveal about The Seeker's motivations for finding and subduing the human race. Then it's more sitting around, strolling in the cave, farming and avoiding detection from the helicopters overhead.
We are presented the opportunity to explore a post-invasion world where humanity has been bettered by the removal of humanity itself. And it is pushed aside so that we can have a 'character'-driven story. I say character quote unquote because there really isn't much character in this film. The interactions between Wanderer, Melanie and The Seeker has a few (very few) good moments, the rest of the humans and Souls are completely forgettable and unimportant to the story. The romance Wanderer/Melanie shares with Ian and Jared is unconvincing, the uncle is cool but he doesn't really develop much as a character, and the younger brother, well, he's not that bad an actor is the only positive I've got.
Andrew Niccol manages to get his hand on a fairly decent cast and does almost nothing with them. Nothing substantial happens in most of this film. There really isn't much tension, there isn't much at stake, and even the climax lasted less than 2 minutes, then we drag on the resolution for another 20 minutes before the film ends on an unsatisfactory note. The scene where Melanie tries to kill herself at the beginning is arguably the most profound decision made by the character, perhaps the most effective scene in the whole film, and it was glossed over as a flashback just to get the story going. Seriously I think the trailer was a better film than the film itself.
And it is perhaps a worse offense for Sci-Fi films to be unsubstantial than to be filled with plot holes and inaccuracies. This film has no plot holes because its plot is very thin, and not much of the world it takes place in is explored, explained or even hinted at. We never learn where the Souls really come from, we never learn how they found or chose Earth, we can't really tell them apart from normal humans because of the 'personalities' we see in Wanderer and The Seeker, and the way Souls can be removed from the Host safely, is just plain weak.
For the most part, you get a feeling that the aliens are very hygienic, orderly and sterile in both appearance and the way they interact. Perhaps it was designed for contrast, because Melanie's inner voice is so annoying and, for the most part, juvenile. I'm all for the concept of the resilient mind surviving in the occupied mind, but most of the time her vocal mannerism is so immature and simplistic, she behaves more like a parasite inside Wanderer than a duality of being.
The way she talks and reacts to situations often removes any character depth built by her other half, who in my opinion wasn't done that badly, but it any atmosphere the choreographer tried to create through the set design, colors, lighting, soft lens and fairly effective use of angle shots is quickly killed once Melanie talks.
In a way this 'portrayal' of Melanie makes the film more realistic, but disrupts the tone (albeit a really slow, melancholic and empty tone) and reduces the film to sounding almost like a Saturday morning Disney show in a few dialogues, particularly as Wanderer humanizes.
Also it is kind of boring that we never 'see' the real Melanie talk with Wanderer the way people with multiple personality disorders might through the reflection of mirrors. Granted a visualisation of their dialogues wouldn't really improve the film much but as it stands, this film has been fairly lazy and budget conscious.
I really don't like this film, but I realise that the more I try to think of reasons why I don't like it, the less I'm coming up with. Perhaps it's because this film is essentially a blank slate. It provides you with a shell, with underdeveloper characters, unclear rules and a larger universe that has yet to be shown. In a book this would be effective but again in film adaptations we expect the director to populate the world for us to some degree, so that whether we like it or not, at least we can see our ideas of the world realised in some form or another.
I think my main complaint for this film ultimately is lack of substance. The film was two hours, but I felt like I was fed maybe 20-30 minutes of actual content, yet it's so draggy in most scenes I felt like I've been watching for a thousand years. I learnt nothing, felt nothing, remembered almost nothing (especially the expository scenes), and now expect nothing of its sequels (if they ever get produced). And even the worst of Sci-Fi films like Battlefield Earth, as stupid and flawed as it is, at least was entertaining to laugh at. The Host, is not only complete failure as entertainment, it also fails in providing any thought-provoking ideas for Sci-Fi lovers, and I believe even for most of the general audience, they should be refunded.
Most of my nitpicks are related to things not explained in the film. Maybe they are in the book but I'm going by movie logic: