Twilight Saga scribe Stephenie Meyer saw another of her teen-friendly novels adapted for the big screen this year with the release of The Host (2013). Helmed by Andrew Niccol – no stranger to glossy sci-fi following Gattaca and In Time – the film features yet another conflicted female protagonist, unable to decide which one of two hunky heartthrobs she prefers kissing. Importantly, this particular love triangle is played out against the aftermath of an alien invasion, with humanity now host to phosphorous, otherworldly parasites. Despite this promising premise, however, soppy romanticism does eventually take centre stage.
One of only a handful of scattered rebels is Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), on the run from the invading race’s agents with her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury). Held captive after a near-fatal fall, Melanie is assimilated by the planet’s new dominant species before being renamed ‘Wanderer’ (‘Wanda’) by arresting officer-turned-interrogator The Seeker (Diane Kruger). Coerced into sharing Melanie’s past memories, including the identity of lover Jared (Max Irons), Wanda begins to question the morality of her kin’s occupation. As Melanie attempts to retake control of her own body, the two entities escape their confines and head into the desert to search for Jared and the last remnants of humanity.
The shadow of Scientology does initially loom large over The Host ; it is, after all, the story of a wandering extraterrestrial race (or ‘souls’) passing from body to body over the course of millennia. Mercifully, this is about as far as the film goes to resembling the fanciful beliefs of L. Ron Hubbard’s cult movement, as it quickly evolves into a far more innocent – if desperately familiar – tale of love conquering all. As witnessed in his previous outing, Niccol does seem to prescribe to the ‘style over substance’ school of science fiction, revelling in shiny, chrome-plated sports cars and crisp white uniforms, yet unable to create a futuristic setting that feels distinctly his own. What we get is a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Dawson’s Creek; too ridiculous to be taken seriously, whilst paradoxically too po-faced to be a schmaltzy guilty pleasure.
Whilst by no means a complete disaster – Ronan makes the best of the role she’s given, despite some grating ‘voice in my head’ back and forth dialogue – there’s precious little on show here to appeal to audiences that aren’t acquainted with Meyer’s source material. Also unlikely to win the favour of many sci-fi fans due to its unimaginative setting and dull production design, The Host plays out its girl-meets-boy, alien-girl-hybrid-meets-other-boy (Jake Abel’s Ian) ménage à trois with minimal fuss – providing, as a consequence, minimal enjoyment.