Hollywood has been trying to fill a void with a young adult audience that the Twilight films left when it wrapped up its saga last year. A number of releases this year will attempt to carry the baton including Andrew Niccol’s The Host, a sci-fi endeavour based on a novel written by Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer.
Most outspoken moviegoers were glad to see Twilight pack up their sparkles and leave. These patrons dismissed the series as a weak soap opera, shook their heads, and turned the other cheek.
I was never aggressively bothered by the Twilight saga and I never saw the films as upfront soap opera vehicles. With The Host, I realize what those Twilight naysayers were feeling – with less disgust, mind you. Where Twilight was a fantasy with minor soap operatic elements to it, The Host is a soap opera with minor sci-fi elements.
I didn’t hate The Host, but I was never convinced that it had staying power with audiences as it played or even after the screening. It’s an ‘aight’ film about a calming, non-violent alien race who has taken over Earth and is out to convert the remaining humans to their way of living.
When Melanie (played by Saoirse Ronan) is captured and converted, her strong soul still exists while her alien alter ego, Wanderer, searches for answers in Melanie’s past and tries to sniff out more humans in her family.
Wanderer takes on a shorter name, Wanda, as the two souls battle each other. Ronan, who has been slowly making a star-studded name for herself with her performances in Atonement and The Lovely Bones, is very good as the unemotional Wanderer trying to understand Melanie. Her glazed over appearance, like the alien race, is comforting yet eerie and her line deliveries are in sync to this persona. However, her vocal portrayal of Melanie inside the Wanderer’s head is loud and borders on becoming too much to handle as Ronan is forced to spout off stilted dialogue that strives for the audience to feel her pain.
And, that’s where the soap operatic elements start to come into play. The cast of aliens and humans all deliver on different, dramatic emotions they’re supposed to be portraying, but it feels as if they’ve been asked by director/screenwriter Niccol to milk each bit of dialogue, silence, and quiver in order to get moviegoers to emote with them.
These moments of tenderness, frustration, and innocence end up being elongated for no good reason and make the acting seem less competent. These undercut performers end up looking as if they don’t know when to stop “feeling the moment” and move the scene along.
The film does deliver on plenty of aspects and is able to hold our interest because of these bright spots. When Ronan is in her element, her performance is alluring. Besides her though, we get a fantastic score and great special effects.
Antonio Pinto’s score is not only fitting – adding a nuanced atmosphere to The Host, – but could also serve as a relaxing sleeping aid in any other type of situation outside a movie theatre. The special effects are just as nuanced and surreal, as they add that necessary fantastical feel Niccol’s film needs. I even enjoyed aspects of the art direction. Beat Frutiger’s vision of the underground dwelling where some humans reside offers some cool ideas and images.
But, there’s always that moment where the film reminds you that you’re watching a soap opera with teens vying for love, purpose, or both. Whether it’s during the rushed and unstabilized love triangle or during the drawn out exchanges full of milked emotion and feeling, it unfortunately can’t be ignored despite its few – but strong – attractions.