The latest from Twilight scribe Stephenie Meyer fuses a familiar sci-fi premise with an equally familiar romantic one … with decidedly mixed results.
We earthlings don't like uninvited visitors.
That may make us appear a bit standoffish to the galactic community at times. But we have reason to be cautious. If trespassing aliens aren't poking us with probes, they're blowing up our White Houses. If they're not obliterating our culture, they're hunting us for sport. Oh, sure, an occasional candy-loving visitor may stop by, waggling his glowing, healing fingers at us in the friendliest of ways. But for every cuddly E.T., there are so many others who are ever so eager to wrap their tentacles around our faces and burst through our chest cavities. Let's face it: Most of them treat our planet like Guns & Roses used to treat dressing rooms.
All of which makes the Souls in The Host look like doily-loving Victorian ladies.
Instead of descending on our planet like laser-wielding Huns, the Souls visit with an eye toward sprucing things up. In no time at all they put an end to war and violence, clean up our polluted environs and ban (we can only assume) clamshell packaging.
So what if they had to take over the bodies of practically every earthling to do it? Isn't it worth it to enjoy a world free of strife, worry and reality TV?
No, the last remnants of humanity insist. No, it is not. And they have a point. After all, it's not like we're getting to enjoy this new, improved Earth. Because when the Souls infiltrate our bodies, they take over possession like a house-flipper snagging a foreclosure. Only instead of evicting the abode's poor, delinquent residents, they just bury 'em down in the basement.
Unless, of course, the host resists. Which is exactly what Melanie does.
Melanie had been one of the last Soul-free humans. She, her beau Jared and little bro Jamie were about to head into the desert, hoping to hook up with a band of equally stubborn humans led by Melanie's rather eccentric old coot of an uncle, Jeb. But Melanie's nabbed before they get there and paired with a thousand-year-old Soul that calls itself "Wanderer."
And that's that. Right? Actually, not so much.
Melanie is still determined to get to Jared and Jamie and Jeb and whoever else might still be human (and, apparently, has a name that begins with "J"). And she's going to get there even if she has to drag Wanderer along, kicking and screaming at each and every step.
The humans in The Host are a sincere if ragtag lot. They're not inclined in the least to just hand their bodies over to these interstellar interlopers. And if they ever succeed in getting the planet back, they'll all likely get medals for heroism and derring-do and such.
But the real hero here, oddly enough, is Wanderer—or Wanda for short. Technically, she's part of the in-crowd these days: Her race rules the planet; she controls Melanie's body. And yet she has a deep compassion for her unwilling host, who is still trapped in there with her. It's not long before the two "souls" form a partnership of sorts. Wanda withholds information from her fellow Souls that would endanger Jared and Jamie. And when the Souls decide Melanie's body is more trouble than it's worth, Wanda helps Melanie run away.
When the two of them arrive at rebel headquarters, both are at risk. Everyone knows that Melanie isn't precisely Melanie anymore. In fact, they doubt Melanie's in there at all, and most would like to kill Wanda. Despite all that hostility, Wanda proves to be a far better guest than her rebellious captors are hosts. She tries to protect Jared and treats Jamie with incredible sensitivity. When handed a sickle to harvest grain, she does so—rather than beheading the nearest human and running back to friendlier environs. She even saves the life of someone bent on killing her. One by one, she wins these reactionary humans over and becomes a part of their community.
[Spoiler Warning] She also realizes that she's in possession of something not hers: Melanie's body. And so she decides to leave it, knowing that she'll sacrifice her own life to give Melanie's back.
When Jamie gets seriously hurt, Jeb leans over his inert body, head bowed and eyes closed, as if in prayer—but we can't know for sure that that's what he's doing. Someone sarcastically says "hallelujah."
Lots of kissing here. So much that a good chunk of the film's estimated $40 million budget must've been doled out on lip balm. When Melanie and Jared meet, they realize that they (and Jamie) might be the last vestiges of humanity. Both understand the implications. Jared, in a very Edwardian flourish of gallantry, tells Melanie that even if they truly are the last man and woman alive, "you still don't have to" (leaving the "have sex with me" part unspoken). But Melanie's having none of that. "I want to," she tells him. "When you touch me, I don't want you to stop."
They kiss and caress in several scenes, and we watch them as they roll in bed beneath covers. (We see his bare back). Now add this to mix: Wanda sometimes passionately kisses Jared in order to attract Melanie's interest and ire when the two share a body. You see, Melanie doesn't like Wanda kissing her beau, and it becomes an odd running gag that whenever Wanda/Melanie slaps or bites Jared to push him away, Jared's thrilled because he knows that it's Melanie who is doing the slapping.
A human named Ian had never met Melanie before Wanda took over. But he really digs Wanda—a relationship that Melanie is very resistant to. That doesn't stop Wanda and Ian from kissing quite a bit themselves.
Moviegoers also see Melanie take a bath (from the shoulders up) and lay naked in a treatment bed. (She's fully covered except for, again, her shoulders). She wears a shimmering, thin-strapped nightgown that shows a bit of cleavage and other outfits that accentuate her curves. We hear Souls talk about how humans have "unusually strong physical drives."
Many humans, we learn, prefer death to serving as hosts. Melanie's dad shoots himself rather than submit. (We see him pick up a gun, then hear a shot fired.) Two rebels drive their truck into a concrete barrier to keep their bodies from the Souls. The cabin is completely crushed, presumably killing them both. Melanie, after thwacking a few Soul-filled attackers in the face, crashes through a glass window and falls several stories to the concrete below in what proves to be a failed suicide attempt. (Melanie survives the very painful looking fall, though a Soul says that there's "barely not a bone broken or organ ruptured" in her.)
A Soul shoots one of her own: We see a splash of red and the inert body, its head in a pool of blood. Jamie accidentally slices his leg with a scythe. We see the wound immediately and again later, after it becomes grotesquely infected. Wanda/Melanie purposely cuts her own forearm and forehead with a knife. (It's a ruse to gain access to a hospital's stash of medicine.)
Humans punch Soul-infested hosts. Someone tries to pull Wanda into rushing water to kill her. Jeb fires a shotgun in warning. Melanie attacks a pursuer. Several people get into a fight, hitting and choking each other. Folks get slapped. Melanie crashes a car in the desert, flipping it multiple times. (She escapes with just a few scratches.) People have the backs of their necks sliced open.
Human rebels sometimes knock hosts out and take them back to their base where the resident doctor tries to extract the aliens from the people. The operation always leads to the death of both the human host and the Soul inside. Wanda, when she discovers it, is horrified. She (and we) see what she characterizes as murdered alien lifeforms laying inert like big squished insects.
Crude or Profane Language
One nice thing about these aliens: They don't swear much, which keeps the movie's language quotient down. We hear one use of "a‑‑," one "p‑‑‑" and five or six uses of "h‑‑‑." God's name is misused four or five times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The aliens' strict allegiance to their moral code rubs humans the wrong way at times. When Wanda tells Melanie that her kind don't ever lie and that they unfailingly trust one another, Melanie says, "You take the fun out of everything." And when Wanda leaves a store with groceries that she doesn't have to pay for (the Souls' commerce systems have eliminated the need for currency, apparently), her human companions remark how they preferred stealing. And Melanie does indeed confess that she's shoplifted and stolen cars before. (Presumably it was after the alien invasion, but it's never specified.) Eventually, Wanda learns how to lie.
The Host is the product of Twilight author Stephenie Meyers' prolific imagination. No surprise, then, that it embraces some of the same themes and ethical strictures that inform her popular vampire series: courage, friendship, sacrifice, forgiveness, love.
Oh, and interspecies relationships.
But while Melanie/Wanda may be locked in a bizarre love triangle just as Bella Swan was with Edward and Jacob, Melanie certainly doesn't wait 'til marriage to have sex.
That's a key point, given the movie's intended demographic: teens and tweens, particularly girls. Despite the story's ostensible sci-fi template, it's more romance than alien-invasion thriller. We hear heartfelt confessions and see kisses in the rain amid a tumult of passionate, conflicting emotions. It feels at times almost like an 8th-grade image of what true love must be like, one that's imbued with mid-pubescent intensity and longing.
Meyers understands and taps into those powerful emotions that make up so much of adolescence. She remembers well what it feels like to be young, exploring new desires and overwhelming feelings.
But the movie plumbs those desires in some discomforting ways. As much as we'd like our daughters to appreciate Melanie's admirable determination, other aspects of her character are problematic. And the fact that the main character feels so young (she's played by Saorise Ronan, best known for her work as a child in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna and City of Ember) doesn't help matters.
There are some positive themes here, as I said. The Host tells us to be kind to others, even if they're very different from us. It encourages us to fight for what's right and not be cowed by forces greater than ourselves (even if they have chrome-covered Lotuses). And it stresses the infinite power of love.
But The Host also cloaks flaws lurking beneath its pretty exterior. I heard tittering in the audience during what were intended to be some of the film's most poignant moments—never a good sign. And while sometimes bad movies can have good messages, The Host's morality is ultimately too muddled to offer much redemption.