Published Mar 28, 2013In sheer concept, The Host is a bit of a peculiarity. Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time), a director known for political and social criticisms, in the form of thinly veiled, futuristic sci-fi parables, doesn't look like a likely match for writer Stephenie Meyer (Twilight), a woman known for counter-feminist, pseudo-Christian, self-hating, antiquated female fantasy and delusion.
This is most likely why their collaboration — an Invasion of the Vagina Snatchers gender and politics mash-up — is such a stilted, clumsy hodgepodge of forced narrative tropes and heavy-handed didactics. It's a work so tonally abstract and bizarrely formal that the propaganda element stands out almost abrasively, playing as a sort of scholastic assertion that communism reflects a feminine perspective contrary to the inherently capitalistic male disposition.
And rather than focus on the thriller element of the traditional alien parasite story, The Host starts after the fact, with Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) fleeing from a peaceful, honest and complacent race of miniature, glowing, deliberately milky white vaginal invaders that have taken over the bodies of the majority of the human race.
She's quickly assimilated, utilizing more overtly sexual imagery that reaffirms a theme of lost virginity and impregnation, but is able to hold onto a portion of her identity inside of her head, whereas most people succumb to the dominant alien force (not unlike the general public adhering to a terrifyingly arbitrary, yet rigid status quo).
While this inner-duality — a very literal interpretation of the feminine identity as having two minds — could compel on paper, it makes for an almost laughable dynamic on-screen. The alien Melanie (or Wanderer) is an even-keeled, open book, while the inner-human Melanie is a panicking, occasionally irrational basket case, presented only in voiceover.
As an audience, we're left watching an actress do her best to convey subtle emotional reactions while amusing purple prose voiceover acts in contradiction to Niccol's notoriously glossy, hyper-stylized and precisely composed (read: cold and technical) visuals.
The demands of the narrative insist that their inner-struggle be resolved quickly in order to proceed to the central premise, wherein the (republican-cum-dictatorship) underground society of humans tenuously allow Melanie/Wanderer back into their fold, having emotional attachments to her body and curiosity about her disposition.
This leads to some of the more amusing, and crappy, aspects of the film, which involve the alien and human components of our plucky politically progressive protagonist developing romances with two different boys and having arguments with herself about cheating on herself and the bland, interchangeable lads.
While Niccol is glossing over the cheesier aspects of Meyer's writing, a Seeker (Diane Kruger) starts to demonstrate characteristics contrary to the idealistic communist ideal that her alien race asserts, suggesting that through sheer will of assimilation and collective values repression and violence are implicit. The Seeker is so intent on finding the Wanderer that her morality implodes, which has much to do with gender — all of the men are easily taken over, but the women retain more of their original identities.
None of this is overly subtle, but the application of political discourse into an ostensibly lame, flowery teen rip-off does make it far more compelling than it should be. It also doesn't hurt that the visuals — reflective cars sitting in an open and expansive yellow desert under bright blue skies — are often quite striking. (eOne)