Friday, April 5, 2013

The Cinema File #153: "The Host" Review

I often surprise myself with movies like The Host, enjoying them far more than I would have thought considering my instant distaste for many of their constituent parts. In my review for the last Twilight clone Beautiful Creatures, I noted that it was probably the best example of a genre I hate that I had seen so far, and that if only for sparing me another movie as bad as Twilight, I had to give it more credit than I gather many thought it deserved. The Host is not as good as Beautiful Creatures, not by a long shot, but it also isn't as bad as Twilight, which I know objectively shouldn't be the standard by which I should judge this movie, even as I can't help doing so. This movie could have been so much better, but it also could have been so much worse, and to the extent that it wasn't given how low my expectations were, I walked out of the movie at the very least relieved, recognizing that full on satisfaction was clearly too much to ask.

The Host is the story of Melanie, who quickly finds herself trapped in her own body as it is taken over by a spectral alien "soul" named Wanderer. She is only the latest of many similar possessions, as this is a near-future world where almost all of humanity has been taken over and used as hosts to the otherwise benevolent conquerors. Before I discuss the glaring flaws of this movie, I have to point out that I absolutely love the setting of it. Deliberately avoiding any trailers, I didn't actually realize going in that this story was going to have this kind of global scale, and initially thought the world would be otherwise familiar as our own save the one alien mentioned in the plot synopsis I read. To find a full on Sci Fi Body Snatcher utopia was a pleasant surprise for me at the outset. What's more, the fact that it is a utopia, even a fascist one, keys into a particular facet of science fiction villainy that I personally love, as seen perhaps most famously in one of my favorite Star Trek bad guys, The Borg, who are so frightening precisely because they are not outwardly evil, but actually think they're doing you a favor. That you value your free will before assimilation is irrelevant, because they know better, and soon you will too.

The problem is, none of the things I like about the film thematically are ever given enough time to breathe and develop into anything, and precious time that could have been spent on this is sacrificed at the alter of Twilight-style love story nonsense. On one level I can't really complain, because given the source material its not like I didn't know exactly what I was in for going in. Still, the wasted potential, considering all the possible interesting stories that could have resulted from this set up, would be heartbreaking if it weren't so predictable. We get our first scene of two lovers making moon eyes at each other about fifteen minutes in and it is as retch inducing as it could possibly be, and though there are less of those moments than I was dreading, they still pervade the narrative at the expense of what could have otherwise been some very engaging action and suspense. Once our schizophrenic heroine finds herself the captive and later accomplice of a cadre of human resistance fighters, I had hoped for an uptick in drama, or at least some gunplay, but all we get by the end is an almost perfunctory nod to my hoped for intrique as padding to get us to the next kiss between characters I've been given very little reason to care about.

The actors are all fine for what material they are given, but they are all essentially one note. Having never seen her in anything else that I know of, I can't tell if Saoirse Ronan is really good at playing an emotionless automaton, or just a really bad actress perfectly suited for this particular role. The parade of young men alternatively vying for her affections, vying for the affections of the alien inside her, or just trying to kill her, all look too alike to tell apart, making the film's attempt at a love triangle (or possibly love quartet) a bit hard to follow. William Hurt shows up as a gruff but (I suppose) lovable old codger who runs the human settlement, and he phones it in the way only he can, putting me in mind of his blank stare affixed father from Lost In Space. I might have been able to engage with the characters and their relationships more were it not for the decision to present the internal Melenie trapped in her own body as an incredibly distracting voice over, rather than a mysteriously unheard voice displayed through a subtle physical performance.

But then, asking for subtly in a movie inspired by a Stephanie Meyer story might just be a fool's game. The Host is either a really good movie done very badly, or a really bad movie executed about as well as it could be. I'm still not sure which it is yet, but either way the result is disappointing. Actually, come to think of it, maybe it is worse than Twilight just on that score alone. As much as I disliked that film and was more entertained by this one, I was never disappointed by Twilight, as I never expected it to be more than what it was, even as it proved to be less than what it could have been. I had the same low expectations for this film, if not lower ones, but it made things even worse by showing so much promise in its premise that I briefly re-considered my bias and thought that just maybe, despite everything I knew and suspected, that this might rise above the muck of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. And then it didn't, almost spitefully so, and I could only mourn the loss of the good movie I could have seen.

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