‘The Host’: Director Andrew Niccol makes this Stephenie Meyer novel work on screen
By Mick LaSalleSan Francisco Chronicle – Wednesday, March 27, 2013
3 1/2 (out of five stars)
Director: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, William Hurt, Jake Abel, Max Irons
Rated: PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
‘The Host” is based on a Stephenie Meyer novel, but don’t think of it that way. Meyer is the author of the “Twilight” saga, but “The Host” was adapted and directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote “The Truman Show” and has written and directed a number of odd and interesting sci-fi fantasies, including “In Time,” “S1m0ne” and “Gattaca.”
“The Host” feels a lot like a Niccol movie and nothing like “Twilight,” despite a story involving another impossible teenage romance.
Neither romantic nor fake romantic, and not at all ridiculous, “The Host” has an atmosphere that is cold, austere and sardonic.
The main concern isn’t two kids and their emotional issues but human survival in a hostile and peculiar universe. Niccol is like a grand scale, big-budget Rod Serling (“The Twilight Zone”). That’s a good thing.
As with Serling, Niccol’s quirky future visions are always tied to some social concern or some critical observation of life as it’s currently lived.
In this scary future world, the Earth has been invaded by aliens that have very little in the way of a physical body. They are, more or less, pure soul. They descend on a planet en masse. They prefer planets that are poorly run, where people are brutal and stupid and kill each other. And take possession of their bodies.
The real person disappears, but the body remains. The only tell-tale sign that a change has taken place is in the eyes, which become weird. Lots of strange contact lenses were used during the making of this movie.
The smart innovation of “The Host” is that these alien beings are not malevolent. Sure, they’re a threat to human existence, and they are roving interplanetary parasites, but the civilization they’re spreading is entirely benign.
When people become possessed they become really, really nice: trusting, generous, and almost incapable of lying.
“The Host” begins at a point at which the aliens outnumber human beings by about a million to one, and the authorities are just doing cleanup operations.
Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a teenager, has become one of the possessed, but the human force is strong within her, and so she resists giving up information about her loved ones.
This struggle within is dramatized by our hearing the internal conversation between Melanie and the host spirit, an ongoing dialogue that might have seemed corny or contrived but, in the hands of Niccol, seems appropriately creepy.
Melanie represents something dangerous to the alien cause, a human spirit with the potential of turning her host spirit into an ally, so when Melanie goes rogue, her supervisor, Diane Kruger at her most fierce, becomes obsessed with finding her. So “The Host” becomes the story of Melanie’s search for her remaining friends and family, while the aliens search for her.
Against Niccol’s chilly background, the romantic elements — the alien falls in love with one young human man, while Melanie is in love with her old boyfriend — don’t seem silly, probably because they’re not pumped up as they would be in a “Twilight” movie.
In Niccol’s hands, everything is a practical problem, more likely to be solved by William Hurt, as an old woodsman with a rifle, than by love conquering all.