Skip to main content

Kiss me like you wanna get slapped.

The Host
(2013)

Given the left-field choices of helmers for some of the Young Adult lit adaptations, you’d think the failures would be more interesting than they are. Then again, Andrew Niccol garnered notices early on as both writer (The Truman Show) and director (Gattaca), but since then his reach has exceeded his grasp. He’s continued to stretch for more cerebral fare but usually ends up botching it. But surely he could lend a few morsels of food for thought to this attempt at extending Stephanie Meyer’s movie life beyond the Twilight franchise? Well no, not really.


Niccol’s previous picture In Time was all premise and no pay-off. So too here, there are enough philosophical contradictions to eke something interesting from the alien invasion plot. The E.T.s are parasitic in nature, attaching themselves to unwilling human hosts and (invariably) squishing their consciousnesses in the process. The tell tale sign of this presence in a host is the manifestation of silver circles the pupil of the eye (surely contact lenses would be an effective method for infiltrating enemy humans?). And the consequence of this bloodless invasion? There’s peace on Earth.


It isn’t a new concept. Invasion of the Body Snatchers tackled it to varying degrees of success in all four of its versions. If everyone’s the same and content, surely that’s a worthwhile sacrifice for individualism and conflict? Generally speaking (The Host aside), this theme has been employed in simplistic terms, whatever the philosophical or political backbone of the question in the given moment (communism, or consumerism, militarism). The threat is to the creative influence and the ego, typified by the sort of monologue where Captain Kirk explains the rich differences that make humans distinct to an uncomprehending machine or race (or Spock expressing admiration for this imperfect species). It would be much more daring to posit a tale that took the alternative view, that we deserved what we got. Or a nuanced view, where there weren’t easy answers. Instead, Meyer has opted for the most straightforward option and taken the path towards the easiest solutions. And Niccol has done nothing to stem that flow.


When Melanie Stryder (Saorise Ronan) is inflicted with an alien “Soul” (called Wanderer) she fails to wink out of existence, surviving to engage in back-and-forth with her infiltrator. Wanderer gradually comes round to Melanie’s way of thinking and, having escaped to the hideout of her former human enclave, she and they are faced with a variety of preconceptions about each other, none of them explored with particular skill. Meanwhile Seeker (Diane Kruger), an alien bent on exterminating the resistance, is on Wanderer’s trail.


Kruger’s is the most interesting and least explored character; Seeker also clearly has a conscious human presence remaining within, motivating her bloodlust, but it’s never clear how one of such an overtly non-violent species comes to this point (the obvious spur is infection by a dirty human mind, but this is left hanging). Meyer doesn’t seem like much of a science fiction author (I make no judgement on her literary abilities, not having read any of her novels; I can only go by the adaptations) as the metaphors are entirely on the nose (calling your aliens Souls; really?) Whether we’re supposed to see a direct parallel between Meyer’s Mormonic beliefs (the spirit’s pre-existence) and the alien Souls is questionable (an essence that lives through many lives over thousands of years incarnating in host bodies sounds an awful lot like reincarnation), but the essentially benign universe of her religion may be found in the ball-dropping of the movie’s resolution.


More than any extrapolation of her beliefs (which would at least engage the mind), the most unrewarding aspect of Meyer’s work is also the reason for her success; the teen romance. With The Host, we have confirmation that the love triangle (or love quartet, if you will) is her staple ingredient. Melanie is in a relationship with hunky Jared (Max Irons, not a chip off the old block) but, when she returns, Wanderer finds herself yearning for Ian (Jake Abel). If The Host has one thing going for it, it’s that there’s no one here as terrible as Taylor Lautner (Irons is wooden, but not so much that he causes unintended hilarity with his every expression). Ronan is much much better than her material, but that’s a given. That said, this might be the first time she’s been dragged down by it. Her performance as Wanderer is very good, affording her a depth that certainly doesn’t present itself in the dialogue, but Melanie’s a complete disaster. Whether or not the interior monologue worked on the page, it’s fails miserably on screen. Maybe there was a way to present Melanie’s inner voice without it become unintentional comedy, but adding a post-effects echo wasn’t the answer. When one of her suitors (I forget which) asks, “Is there anyway she can give us some privacy?” it summons the ghost of Innerspace. But that was supposed to be funny. Melanie is whip smart, quick-witted and sassy; she’s incredibly annoying, basically. That is, when her arguments with Wanderer over boys aren’t causing chuckles.


The dialogue is rotten all over. It has to be experienced to be truly savoured. Examples include “He tried to kill you. Don’t you dare smile at him”, “You tried to kill me and now you’re protecting me”, “There’s a war raging in you, Seeker” and best of all, “Kiss me like you wanna get slapped” (there are all sorts of things wrong there, but hopefully they’re self-evident). When an old pro like William Hurt is delivering it (when Wanderer suggests his Uncle Jeb is either a genius or crazy, Melaine responds “He’s both” – that one’s a golden nugget, right there), you can almost believe but too much of the material rests on younger shoulders and none of them are up to Ronan’s standard.


Structurally, this is a dog too. Having escaped the Seeker, Melanie/Wanderer hides out in some fibreglass caves for the duration. Cinematographer Roberto Schaefer makes the desert vistas glossy enough, but the sets only ever look like sets. The Souls’ technology is slight and shiny (it couldn’t be much more, since this is a relatively low budget movie; just as well, as it barely made it back in box office), but there’s the occasional neat nod to their social structure that begs for more explanation. Instead there’s only moribund canoodling. Visiting a supermarket for supplies, the fugitives leave with a trolley full of goodies; there’s no checkout because the aliens have no need for money. They have no need for advertising either; in a nod to Repo Man, all the goods are in unadorned and simply labelled packaging. Even the building itself is concisely announced as “store” along its frontage.


Obviously, given its failure, Meyer’s attempt to create another romantic tangle lacks the archetypes and clearly defined forbidden love that made Twilight so successful. The indifference to The Host either shows how fickle audiences are, or their tastes are highly specialised. Studios won’t stop adapting Young Adult fiction on the basis that, as long as the costs aren’t preventative, the next one might just be the next Hunger Games or Twilight. How this one’s failing affects the author’s plans for sequels, I don’t know (or care). There doesn’t seem much need for another, as she’s repeated Twilight’s quirk of ensuring all parties go away happy. There’s some guff about Wanderer wanting to end it all, only to be shown the error of her thinking by insightful humans. But since her mind-set makes is incoherent anyway, it washes over with no impact (“You haven’t killed a body, you’ve given it life!”; how very convenient and consequence-free). Really, this is no more risible than the Twilight movies; its biggest offence is that it’s rather dull. My suggestion is, if you want to see a movie called The Host, check out the Korean flick with the giant flobblely creature.


**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.