This is my review of The Host, and it is spoiler-free. I tend to write long reviews, bear with me. This review is also cross-posted to Lost in Reviews.
The Host is based on the novel of the same name by Stephenie Meyer. That name may ring a bell as it is the same author who wrote the four Twilight novels. The Host does not have vampires in it; rather, it is science fiction with a love story mixed in. It is also not a young adult novel, but can be found in the adult fiction section of your library or bookstore. The film adaptation was given the green light over three years ago, and it has taken some twists and turns to make it to the theatre on Friday, March 29th.
Unfortunately, promotion for the film has made it clear that this is by the same person who wrote Twilight. That is going to turn off the same people who groaned, bashed, and complained about the Twilight films and phenomenon that lasted five years even though there are no sparkly vampires to be seen. On the other hand, using the Twilight connection, Open Road Films hopes to attract the Twilight fan base to this new film and the subsequent sequels.
The film revolves around Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), one of the last remaining humans who have not been taken over by Souls. Souls are the alien species who inhabit the humans, essentially controlling them and killing off the human “soul.” The Soul that is implanted in Melanie is called Wanderer (Saoirse Ronan’s second role). Wanderer quickly realizes that Melanie has not died off and remains in her body, her thoughts calling out and occasionally taking control of her body again. The Souls’ sort-of police forces are called Seekers. “The Seeker” (Diane Kruger) is one woman who is determined to find the last human resistance and cull all the information she can from Melanie’s mind. She becomes quite obsessed with Melanie and Wanderer. Wanderer becomes sympathetic and vulnerable to Melanie. She goes in search of Melanie’s boyfriend Jared Howe (Max Irons) and brother Jamie Stryder (Chandler Canterbury). She finds the family and other humans living in a large cave in Arizona, and they do not take kindly to those who the Souls inhabit. They don’t know that The Seeker has followed her tracks.
Andrew Niccol, famous for Gattaca and The Truman Show, directed and wrote the screenplay for The Host. His career has mostly centered on the science fiction genre, his last being In Time. This is the first film that he has wrote the script based off a novel. He had a 600 page novel with a set story and ideas within to construct The Host. He has a certain style of filming. He made things grander than in the novel. He also took some of Stephenie Meyer’s concepts and elements and improved upon them. But this is not Gattaca, which seems to be propped up as Niccol’s best work and against which all his projects are compared to every time. This is a separate story with its own merits. I, for one, am glad to have had such a master science fiction storyteller behind this film.
This is a complex film containing an equally complex and difficult roles of Melanie and Wanderer (or Wanda), playing two characters in one body. Saoirse Ronan was the first person to be cast in the film, and she pulls off the role nicely. I do not know many actresses of the same age (she was 17 and 18 during filming) that could do the same things. She manages to not look like a schizophrenic person, granted only one role is acted out the majority of the time. Melanie’s words are only spoken in her head and heard by the audience.
Diane Kruger slips into a somewhat evil role really well. She has never played a character with a dark side or been in a science fiction film. Her role as The Seeker is more complex than it first appears to be, giving her role new meaning by the end.
The rest of the cast includes relative newcomers like Jake Abel, who plays Wanda’s love interest, Ian O’Shea. Max Irons only has a few major film and TV projects behind him. Both Abel and Irons play two different sides of the love box or quadrangle that involves the one body of Wanda and Melanie. Expect to see some swooning females in the audience. Chandler Canterbury is a brilliant young actor who has a great future in film. Every time I see Canterbury in something new, my respect for his immense talent increases. Boyd Holbrook, who plays Kyle O’Shea, Ian’s brother, has a smaller part compared to the novel, but comes across as the tough, thick-headed bully of the cave humans well. If the film does as well as some expect, all the actors involved in this film will become better known to fans and the film-going audience.
Veteran and well-respected actors William Hurt and Frances Fisher join the cast as Uncle Jeb Stryder and Maggie Stryder, respectively. They add a certain class to the film and raise it a couple of notches. You do not expect to see either actor in a less-than-quality film. I got goosebumps when Fisher enters the film. She does not have a large role but it is powerful nonetheless. William Hurt plays the head of the cave human resistance, benignly ruling over the others and having crackpot ideas that actually work. He is a bit of the comic relief also.
With any large novel adapted to a film, things are lost to the limitations of a film and the runtime. While fans of The Host novel may lament their exclusion, the general story of the film is there. The ending has not changed and there are no major changes.
My only real issue with The Host is how the relationships are rushed and how some of the lines from the novel translated to the film. With only two hours, the Ian and Wanda relationship develops fast. There are also some lines that make me cringe a little, similarly to some lines from the Twilight novels and films. They do not sound so great on screen compared to how they sound reading the book in your head. While fans may want those lines in the film, they do not play out well when acted and spoken by actors.
Having run a news or fan site for this film adaptation for a long time, I always said I would not say the film is great if it in fact turned out to be a disaster. It is not awful and far from it. This is a great film that sets the stage for a sequel that Stephenie Meyer is writing now. The plot, actors, score, landscapes, and Andrew Niccol’s style all combined to create a unique film that hopefully the fans of the novel and newcomers, both male and female, will enjoy. The promotion of the film has even kept a couple of the actors a secret. That is something that not every studio will do, especially with actors that are recognizable. As someone invested in this film, I hope that it finds the audience it needs. There will be bashers and haters, but I think if you take a chance on The Host, you may be surprised.
This is not Twilight and it never will be.
I give The Host 4 “Chrome Lotuses” out 5.
by Sarah Ksiazek