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Review: The Host

An awkward adaptation for newcomers to Meyer, despite an eye-catching sci-fi sheen. Katrina Northern reviews.

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Director: Andrew Niccol
Starring: Saiorse Ronan, Max Irons, Jake Abel
Length: 125 minutes

The Host is a reasonably interesting film which struggles to fulfil the potential of the Stephenie Meyer novel on which it is based. The transition onto the screen is awkward but is somewhat redeemed by appealing camerawork.

Set in a now mostly alien-inhabited earth, The Host evokes the tensions between the last remaining human rebels and the 'Souls', silver-irised beings who inhabit the minds and bodies of human 'hosts'. But what happens when the host's consciousness fights back? Melanie Stryder (Ronan) is so taken over by Wanda, or Wanderer, and the two engage in an internal power-struggle. Wanda is unable to suppress the emotional power of Melanie's memories, particularly her love for her little brother and boyfriend Jared (Irons). She defies the Seeker tailing her and embarks on a journey of discovery which may threaten the alien/human binary.

Stephenie Meyer dodged a bullet by setting the story post-invasion, avoiding the logistics of how it could have actually taken place. In fact, the futuristic sci-fi thing is a bit of a ruse, despite the consequential cinematic scope of the novel which the film's cinematography takes advantage of. In one striking scene Melanie, now also Wanda, stands by a mirror which literally reflects the doubling of characters intrinsic to their fusion. The shiny but ironically soulless cityscape is contrasted with a sense of claustrophobia created by some clever camerawork in the dormant volcano that the rebels inhabit. Shots of the wheat fields and solar panels within the volcano are equally mesmerising.

What Meyer's novel is really interested in is the romance. The book was marketed as the first love triangle to involve only two bodies, and considers the ramifications of two beings with conflicting drives and desires inhabiting the same body. As a result, this adaptation struggles with one over-arching question: how can you compellingly film a story that primarily takes place in someone's head? What works on the page does not always work on screen. Director Andrew Niccol's answer is to have Wanda speak out loud while Melanie responds telepathically. The result is awkward, distracting and emotionally restrictive and Ronan understandably struggles to convey this duality of character.

To connect with this film you really need to have read the book. This will help fill in the most thinly drawn characters, especially the underdeveloped supporting characters, let down by the writing and direction of Andrew Niccol. It moves at a pensive pace, unable to adequately portray the book's complex internal action and at times succumbs to contrived and sentimental dialogue. Nevertheless, The Host is a decent attempt, even if it suffers from the creative risk taken in choosing a difficult adaptation.

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