The Host: How Overemphasis of a Sub-Plot Ruins a Movie

I read this book when it came out in 2008 and thought it was better than Stephenie Meyer’s claim-to-fame Twilight Saga. Sure, the writing style wasn’t great (That doesn’t seem to Meyer’s forte), but the plot of The Host was just more interesting than co-dependent vampire love. The whole “aliens have taken over my body” story is always cool, but this one is fairly unique because the alien takes over the brain and has to essentially force the human’s consciousness out in order to gain control. Can you guess what doesn’t happen in this story?

Having read this book, I have a huge problem with this movie’s marketing, which ultimately has made people hate the movie. If you were to look at this poster, you would assume that The Host is about a girl torn between two loves (The Team Edward vs. Team Jacob formula will never go away). And if you look below in the movie’s plot description, it says “the next epic love story.” Um, was I reading the wrong book? Because I thought The Host was about the relationship between the host (the human) and its parasite (the alien).

Is there romance in this story? Of course, there is! But it’s a minor sub-plot to show the complications of the human’s memories and feelings affecting the alien who has taken over the human’s body. Naturally, the production company decided that they were just going to market this movie as a romance because, hey, that’s not what the story is about, but teenage girls will come see it if they think it’s another Twilight. UGH. Let’s talk about the damn movie…

Here’s how Rotten Tomatoes describes the plot: “What if everything you love was taken from you in the blink of an eye? The Host is the next epic love story from the creator of the Twilight Saga, worldwide bestselling author, Stephenie Meyer. When an unseen enemy threatens mankind by taking over their bodies and erasing their memories, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) will risk everything to protect the people she cares most about—Jared (Max Irons), Ian (Jake Abel), her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her Uncle Jeb (William Hurt)—proving that love can conquer all in a dangerous new world.”

Let’s start with the opening sequence. I never have a problem with a movie opening with narrations and imagery to define a setting, but The Host didn’t execute this well. The sequence tried to give the audience a quick glimpse of what life on Earth was like now with the aliens having taken over human bodies (Hint: the glowing irises), but the way it was filmed with the slow zoom-out from the eyes made it look more like a public service announcement for global relations or something. Or maybe a creepy life insurance commercial. Had they left that sequence out, it would’ve started much better. It should’ve opened with the following scene of Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) being chased by “humans” with glowing irises and then leaping to her death. That scene tells me everything I need to know about the setting and the plot. Not to mention, it would’ve sparked the audience’s interest more because they would’ve been like, “Yo, who are those shady motherf***ers?” (I don’t know why I went hood with that).

As I mentioned above, this isn’t a love story; it’s about the relationship between the host and the parasite. Why is that great? Because, at first, the alien Wanderer (later shortened to “Wanda”) is just trying to do her job and extract information from Melanie (her human host)’s memories to share with the Seeker (Diane Kruger). But after diving deeper into these memories, Wanda is unable to force away Melanie’s consciousness and is overwhelmed by her emotions, so the two start to converge into one mindset in order to protect Melanie’s human family, friends, and lover from being caught by the aliens. On top of this plot, there’s also a philosophical premise about what truly defines who a person is—their mind or their body? And boy do I like a thought-provoking conversation.

Unfortunately, director and screenwriter Andrew Niccol wasn’t able to grasp this concept, making the movie’s script and pacing go in all kinds of directions, except, you know, the right one. It seemed like it was going to stay true to the host/parasite relationship story, but then it veered off into a story about the conflict between Wanda and the Seeker, who was obsessed with hunting her down and finding the remaining humans. Oh, but then it took yet another turn into a “bigger” narrative about the complicated romance between Wanda/Melanie and human love interests Jared (Max Irons) and Ian (Jake Abel). Yes, because a movie can’t be good unless it has the possibility of a love triangle (or in this case, a really awkward foursome). Remember—the romance part of this story was supposed to be just a minor sub-plot to complement Wanda/Melanie’s relationship, not become the main plot of the movie, which Niccol basically made happen because he’s an idiot. Seriously, are there no decent screenwriters?

Now, on to Saoirse Ronan (I know you’re trying to say her first name right now, so here’s the pronunciation: Sar-sha), who plays Wanda/Melanie. Unlike the actors and actresses in The Twilight Saga, Ronan can actually show emotional depth in her characters. While she’s still somewhat new to the acting world, she’s pretty good. If you’ve seen Atonement or The Lovely Bones, you already know how good she is. With The Host, Ronan had a pretty difficult task. Not only did she have to play an alien struggling against her human host, but she also had to play a human struggling against her alien parasite. The approach was very schizophrenic because Wanda and Melanie are so different, but I think Ronan did fairly well trying to convey these two characters.

What sucks for Ronan is that she was totally capable to show the relationship between Wanda and Melanie, but that would-be performance was undermined by the romance narrative. To add to this movie’s problems, the only way the Wanda/Melanie mind-struggle could be shown in the movie (It works better in the book, trust me) was to have Ronan do voiceovers for Melanie’s internal monologue, which was unintentionally hilarious at some points. Not to mention, the lines written for Melanie’s train-of-thought were juvenile (i.e., she yells at Wanda for kissing Jared and Ian, which came off as immature as Twilight), and the voiceovers went in and out of Melanie’s Southern accent, making me wonder if Niccol directed Ronan halfway through the recordings to add a Southern accent.

Since I’ve mostly harped on this movie, I should probably say a few good things. How great was Diane Kruger as the Seeker? God, she’s the perfect amount of beautiful and scary in this movie. She’s impatient, fake-nice, and obsessive, and she has that look that says “I will cut a bitch,” even though the aliens are a peaceful race. A perfect example was the scene where she was questioning a very hesitant Wanda about Melanie’s family and had this look on her face that danced along the lines of murderous rage. And you know Kruger was doing a great job with her character when you felt like you could finally relax after the Seeker was removed from her human host.

Also, The Host‘s art department deserves some credit for their design of the special effects, scenery, and props. The eyes effect for the aliens worked well because I was both intrigued and creeped out whenever they appeared onscreen—especially when they were shining in dark rooms. Also, the CGI of the aliens placed into the human bodies was really quite beautiful. I thought they looked like shiny centipedes. My significant other said he thought they looked like they’d been modeled after microscopic viruses, which would make sense given the story. As for the scenery and props, I loved how everything in the alien cities (clothing, buildings, furniture, vehicles, etc.) were all clean, modern designs to contrast the humans’ cave dwelling (simple machines, “backwoods” attire, natural landscapes, etc.). It helped back the claim from the beginning of the movie about the aliens rejuvenating the planet and keeping it clean, as well as outlining what human life would be like in a post-apocalyptic world.

Overall, The Host had the potential to be better than Stephenie Meyer’s previous book-to-film Twilight Saga, but it did nothing more than stay on par with Twilight‘s mediocrity. The fault, however, cannot be laid at the feet of the cast and crew, who worked well with what they were given. Rather, the blame should be placed on director and screenwriter Andrew Niccol, as well as the marketing department for the movie’s production company. This sci-fi story is thought-provoking and could’ve reached a more widespread audience, but it wasn’t allowed to go beyond the juvenility of the current cash-cow that is the young adult romance machine.

Where it could’ve stuck to the story about the relationship between a human host and an alien parasite fighting over control for mind and body, creating a philosophical discussion of “personhood,” The Host was thrown together with an amateur script and repackaged into the same movie we’ve seen for the last four years (That would be Twilight, in case you didn’t catch that). If you’re wondering why I didn’t categorize this movie as a romance, it’s because I’m not going to reward the geniuses who think they can miss the whole point of this story without being called out on it. Also, I’m stubborn.

The Host: C+

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