Alan Markfield
Owen Gleiberman
April 03, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Host

Current Status
In Season
Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown and Company
Sci-fi and Fantasy, Fiction

We gave it a F

Whatever you think of the Twilight films (to varying degrees, I enjoyed all five of them), it has always struck me as extreme that they were ever subjected to so much vitriolic hatred. The haters should have saved up all their eye-rolling outrage for The Host, an adaptation of the sci-fi novel that Stephenie Meyer wrote as a palette cleanser and published in between Twilight books. Directed by the icy futurist Andrew Niccol (In Time, Gattaca), the movie is built with a lot of derivative spare parts that make it sound at least watchable. An invasion of earth by aliens! Body-snatching! Interplanetary interspecies love! (Oh, that.) But what it all comes down to is this: The Host is a postapocalyptic tall tale in which, for two hours, almost nothing happens. The movie is arid, inert, inept, dumbly preposterous, and endless. I was looking at my watch after 20 minutes.

The Souls are a race of colonizing parasites who hop from planet to planet, taking over the life forms there, and now they have come to Earth. We know that they’re to be feared, because the actors who play them wear white suits and silver contact lenses and speak in the sort of fascist monotone that goes back to the take-me-to-your-leader kitsch of the ’50s. Each Soul occupies one human body and obliterates the spirit of the person he or she once was. But one Earthling has escaped — sort of. A Soul known as Wanderer has been placed in the body of Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), a feisty 17-year-old girl, and Melanie refuses to go away. She lives, sharing her body with Wanderer (who gets nicknamed Wanda) and carrying on a dialogue with her. You can see why this would be intriguing to Meyer. It’s her way of getting ”inside” the otherworldly-meets-human consciousness that she worked up to in the Twilight series with Bella’s conversion to vampiredom.

In effect, though, what this means is that Saoirse Ronan, a very good actress (she’s like a stonier Jena Malone), keeps having conversations that consist of Wanda saying something that Melanie answers in voiceover, usually in a nagging, petulant tone that turns the movie into some bizarre Saturday Night Live sketch about a girl with a bratty alien inside her. When our double-person heroine comes across a scraggly group of human survivors, led by Melanie’s uncle (William Hurt), I thought, ”At last, a few other characters.” But the renegades just spend 45 deadly minutes discussing the metaphysics of whether a girl like Melanie could be alive inside an alien. Melanie ultimately hooks up with a fella, of course, at which point The Host starts pretending to be an otherworldly romantic thriller. But it’s really a dramatic sinkhole. F

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