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- Alys Stephen Center Screens Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago
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The Host brings alien fighting action
Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the Cineplex, she’s back! Yep, with the silver screen having been blissfully Twilight-free since late last year, but all good things have to come to an end, I suppose. Her latest and first non-Twilight stab at relevancy is here, and guess what? It doesn’t entirely suck.
The Host is the tale of another female protagonist, this one decidedly more interesting than perennial wallflower Bella Swan. Melanie is part of a faction of humans who have chosen to fight the occupation of a group of alien life-forms, who have somewhat benevolently taken up residency on our planets, and bodies. Think Invasion of the Body Snatcher meets Revolution. Basically, it is a post-apocalyptic resistance to a semi-hostile takeover.
I say ‘semi’ because it is a non-violent takeover. These entities simply possess their human hosts- hence the title- and take over the thinking from there on, their only tell-tale sign of occupation being eerily glowing eyes. The aliens have done this sort of thing all over the universe, but naturally, never had any trouble until us perky humans came along.
The aliens have the technology to heal injuries, disease, and fix some of the earth’s issues with the environment. They literally don’t fight each other ever, and there’s no problem with money, as people just go to generically-named “store” to pick up what they need, no funds needed. So, um, the problem is? I mean in this economy, that sounds alright, you know? Am I right?
Well, we humans are stubborn, what can I say? USA! USA! USA! Oh wait, was this a worldwide takeover? Whatevs. We Americans aren’t taking this lying down, so we choose to resist. Suck it, alien yahoos with your glowy tentacle thingees and polymorphous bodies! (Yes, those are totally the scientific terms for what these aliens are. Look it up, people!)
One of those who does just that is the aforementioned Melanie, who would rather die—die, I say!—than let her body be taken over by these sap-sucking alien scum. So, she takes a (Bella) swan-dive out of a window, rather than let her body be taken over by them, and wakes up…taken by one of them. Oops! Don’t you hate when that happens?
One problem. Melanie’s consciousness is still there, but she’s got company, who dubs herself “Wanderer” (aka “Wanda” for short). So, the two become trapped as one, with both occupying the same body and mind. It makes for an interesting dichotomy and to the film’s eternal credit, they cast the part perfectly with Irish lass Saoirse Ronan, one of the youngest Oscar nominees ever, for 2007’s Atonement. Ronan also played strong female protagonists in The Lovely Bones and Hanna, the last being a particularly good primer for this role.
As in Hanna, most of the film features Ronan on the run from “The Seeker,” a nefarious blonde supermodel-type, only here played by erstwhile Helen of Troy Diane Kruger, instead of Cate Blanchett. I don’t often feel compelled to comment on a film’s wardrobe and style, but this film really has it in spades, with the “villains” clad in benevolent-but-fearsome all-white all-the-time outfits, and racing around in all-silver vehicles like sports cars and motorcycles. So, they’re sort of like Euro-villains, I guess? Hey, Kruger is German, don’t ya know?
Meanwhile, the two consciousnesses within Melanie’s bodies are battling it out for supremacy, with Melanie having just enough fight in her to get the better of the newcomer-to-Earth Wanderer. She busts out of alien central and goes on the run to find her fellow Americans in their hide-out in the desert. Or technically former fellow Americans, as she is now part-alien.
Once Melanie arrives, naturally, her eyes give her away, and she is held captive until the resistance can figure out what to do with her. As they become aware of Melanie’s continued existence, this leads to bigger issues. You thought the love triangle in Twilight was something? Wait until you get a load of Meyer’s love quadrangle, in which Wanda falls for one guy and Melanie tries to win back over her former BF, who is now rejecting her because of the whole alien thing. Let it not be said that Meyer did not possess some semblance of originality.
In fact, I must say, it’s as if she listened to all the criticism, addressed it and was like, I can do better! And she did! Go figure. Miracles can still happen, people. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when that old Twilight treacle sneaks in, notably in a flashback involving a pre-alien takeover Melanie and her man Jared (Max Irons), which descends into Lucas-level “Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo”-territory, which is never a good thing.
But for the most part, the romance stuff is portrayed with a nice new sheen of self-awareness and good humor- those of you reading this wondering how straight they play it needn’t worry. The film completely acknowledges the ludicrous nature of the whole two-minds-one-body thing in an amusing and, dare I say, clever way. A lot of that credit goes to Ronan- she’s fantastic, as always, and also in on the joke. I really got a kick out the scenes where Melanie gets jealous/angry over Wanda’s actions or vice versa- “Couldn’t you go into another room or something?”
Credit is also due to director Andrew Niccol, the perfect man for the job. Sometimes Hollywood gets it right. The director behind the cult classic Gattaca and the underrated In Time, he gets the material completely and knows exactly what to do with it. Yes, as with those films, the movie is a bit long and occasionally poky in its artsy-ness, but I happen to like that style, so I’m fine with it. You might feel that it could have used some judicious shaving of the two-hour-plus running time, and you might be right, but I just liked looking at the film, you know? Niccol’s sense of style just mesmerizes me a bit and in a good way. Maybe you’ll feel the same way, maybe not.
Either way, Meyer fully redeems herself here…okay maybe not fully- did we really need five freaking Twilight movies? But, you know, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought maybe she’d prove a one-trick-pony, but I really liked this movie overall. It was an original take on much-traveled story territory, and that’s saying something. I’m not sure if it warrants a series of its own, especially since a lot of what makes the movie so neat is resolved in the end, and therefore wouldn’t be featured in any future installments- but better this than Twilight, to be sure.