Niagara Gazette

April 2, 2013

CALLERI: Welcome to the world of friendly parasites in 'The Host'

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — You can argue all you want about the adage that rules were made to be broken, but when it comes to motion pictures about creatures invading humans and seizing their minds, there is no room on planet Earth for pleasant parasites. None.

I wasn’t willing to let writer Stephenie Meyer play fast and loose with vampire and werewolf lore in her cloying, gooey, teenaged “Twilight” fantasies and the overblown cinematic treacle made from them, so I’m certainly not going to give her a pass when it comes to “The Host.” In the new film based on Meyer’s novel, folks are pestered by aliens from outer space who crave complete and total happiness. They’re like smiley faces riding in on UFOs.

Once they’ve burrowed into an earthling, and turned their eyes silver, the aliens want their hosts to act totally chummy and whisper sweet-nothings into everyone else’s alternative ear canal.

“The Host” is based on Meyer’s attempt to latch onto a lot of moviegoers’ welcome passion for science fiction. The trouble here is that this passion will not be satisfied with the laughable junk on view in this utterly vapid and nonsensical film. The director and screenwriter is Andrew Niccol, who has his own passion for mind-bending and off-beat material. He wrote the interesting but ultimately unsatisfying “The Truman Show,” and wrote and directed the exceptional “Gattaca” and the fascinating “Lord Of War.” Niccol also wrote and directed two failures, “In Time” and “S1m0ne.” He also scripted the sluggish “The Terminal.”

It’s readily apparent that the material in “The Host” appealed to Niccol, but when making big budget studio movies, creativity gets tossed out the window in board rooms. There's also “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers,” that darn 1956 classic with which to contend.

In science fiction literature, the promise is that when parasites enter humans, bad things are going to happen. In “The Host,” the alien parasitic race, known as the Souls, are all about love and harmony. Forget any kind of misunderstanding. These are happy hosts. Do-gooders. Peaceniks that would embarrass the most hidebound hippies. However, they do get a little bit riled up if an earthling escapes their mind-altering tentacles.

The film lacks originality because we are back in the world of three pretty young things being shadowed by forces they might as well accept. At the start of the movie, Melanie (also known as Wanda or the Wanderer) hasn’t been bitten by the bug of joviality. For some reason, she has escaped the parasitic onslaught, but this will soon change. Her horny, but good-natured friends, Ian and Jake, both poster boys for a successful hair and make-up department, will struggle with loving Wanda’s mind, but not her body. They know about secret hideouts where the possessed can fight the parasites and even throw off the cloak of forced niceness.

Meanwhile, Melanie’s wise Uncle Jeb has his own take on things. Tossed-in for comic relief is Jared’s younger brother Jamie. Overseeing all of this is the Seeker, a female parasitic enforcer determined to make sure that meanness, poverty, illness, crime, political corruption, and air pollution are dispensed with, that they become forgotten shadows to the humans she controls.

Of course, erasing minds means personalities go out the window. Do you know how personality traits enhance a movie? They create drama. You won’t find much drama in “The Host.” It’s like watching a room full of far too mellow stoners. The film makes you want to dissolve uppers in everyone’s bong water.

Meyer and Niccol do seem to have a message, as ludicrous as it may be. They are saying that too much friendliness is a negative because you lose your ability to think for yourself. The goal for Melanie will be to reclaim her humanity. So, does that mean she has to become a bad person? You got me. This is philosophy for unformed minds, which would be the teenagers at whom the novel is aimed.

The cast goes through its lethargic paces without breaking much of a sweat. It includes Saoirse Ronan as Melanie, Jake Abel as Ian, Max Irons as Jared, Diane Kruger as the Seeker, and William Hurt as Jeb. Interestingly, Hurt is in a much better movie about the altering of minds, Ken Russell’s energetic “Altered States” from 1980. Writer-director Niccol’s creative abilities got sidetracked here.

The most interesting thing about “The Host” is that Max Irons is the son of actor Jeremy Irons and actress Sinead Cusack. This makes him the grandson of the legendary theater star Cyril Cusack. In this family, there are a total of nine stage and screen performers of all ages, some with prodigious credits.

This means that after “The Host,” young Irons has nowhere to go but up.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.