Young-adult author Stephenie Meyer gained world-wide fame after her debut novel Twilight was adapted to the big screen in 2008. Five years after the release of that film, which launched the careers of actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, another novel of Meyer’s was optioned for an adaptation. The Host was originally published in 2008 as a novel for adults, instead of the young-adult-readership of Twilight, but this same readership adopted the story of The Host as if it were a sequel to their beloved vampire-romance.
Similar to “Twilight,” but featuring aliens instead of vampires, “The Host” follows the story of a young woman torn between two men in a supernatural setting. In “The Host,” hostile aliens, who are called “souls,” have taken over their human hosts and have erased their memories to the point that humanity has practically become extinct. Earth has been invaded, but the souls mean no harm.
“The earth is at peace. There is no hunger. There is no violence. The environment is healed. Honesty, courtesy and kindness are practiced by all. Our world has never been more perfect. Only, it is no longer our world.”
There are a few humans left and one of them, a young woman named Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), is on the run with her little brother, when she is captured by the enemy. The story begins here, when a soul named Wanderer (also played by Saoirse Ronan) is put into Melanie’s body. Another soul, called the Seeker (Diane Kruger), gives Wanderer the task of diving into Melanie’s memories to track down the location of the human resistance. But Melanie fights back, forging an unlikely alliance between two minds in the same body.
Wanderer still has control over the body, but Melanie tries to break free with her mind. Her thoughts are voiced by Ronan and guide Wanderer to the hiding place of the humans, where Melanie’s lover Jared (Max Irons) and her little brother Jamie are. The leader of the resistance, Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt), is tasked with deciding Wanderer’s fate: kill her, or let her live. Jamie decides Wanderer gets to stay, because he realizes his sister is trapped inside the body Wanderer now controls. At first, uncle Jeb is suspicious of Wanderer, believing she lies to Jamie about Melanie still being alive inside her head, but after a while he, too, discovers the truth.
Wanderer begins to feel at home in the caves where the humans live. Her name is shortened to “Wanda” and a romance blooms between her and one of the humans, Ian (Jake Abel). Unfortunately, Wanda lives in Melanie’s body, and she still loves Jared. This complicated love-triangle is interrupted when the souls are close to discovering their hiding place and Wanda is forced to return to the dangers of the alien world.
“The Host” was released in 2013 to a hail of negative reviews from critics, who almost universally panned the film as “the worst of 2013.” Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly called the film “a dramatic sink-hole” and Manohlia Dargis of The New York Times thought “The Host” was “dopey, derivative and dull.” Based on the opinion of 28 film critics, “The Host” was given a very low 35 out of 100 on Metacritic. But why is “The Host” one of the worst films of 2013? Mainly, because the film does not do Meyer’s novel justice.
Director Andrew Niccol assembled an impressive team of actors, including Academy Award-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan and Academy Award-winning actor William Hurt. Despite this promising casting, Niccol’s film lacks any brilliance. It is truly amazing how one can take such great actors and not have them live up to their potentials. Ronan, who portrays both lead characters, is “youthfully elegant as always, but the material defeats her,” according to Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail. Hurt, for example, knows how to portray introverted characters, who have a watchful and silent intelligence, so he seems the perfect casting for Uncle Jeb, but in “The Host,” it just does not work.
The same in case of Max Irons, who portrays Melanie’s lover and co-leader of the resistance, Jared. In Meyer’s novel, Jared is this strong-willed and independent character, but in the film, Irons does little more for him than “stubborn” and “angry for no apparent reason.” Irons clearly does everything in his power to connect with his character, but the writing makes it impossible for him to do so.
Fortunately, there is one solid performance. Jake Abel, who is known for playing more unpleasant characters in films such as “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” and “I Am Number Four,” now stars as the most pleasant character of “The Host” and gives the most pleasant performance of the film. Abel seems to have been the only one of the cast who really understood his character, Ian, and transformed him into more of a human being than he is in the novel. The producer, Nick Wechsler, says: “Casting Jake (Abel) was going against type – that was Andrew (Niccol)’s gut call. He wanted to go against expectations.”
Apart from the poor and disappointing performances, there is no suspense in “The Host” whatsoever. When Wanderer’s car crashes, Niccol’s film goes through the motions of a suspenseful sequence, but we feel nothing. The same thing happens when she almost dies in the desert, or when she is almost strangled to death, or when the Seeker is this close to finding their hiding place of the humans. The filmmakers could made far more use of suspense to create tension. “The Host” does not move you, it does not make you feel or think or believe anything.
In contrast to Meyer’s novel, the adaptation lacks feeling and realism. Niccol, who wrote and directed the film without inspiration, succeeds in making the screenplay as boring and silly as the film. Niccol’s writing feels sloppy, with a lot of unnecessary dialogue and kitschy one-liners. In Meyer’s novel, the plot is not boring and it certainly is not silly, because her focus lies on how society is affected by an alien take-over. Whereas in the film, Niccol focuses on the romantic aspect of the story and kind of forgets about everything that is happening outside of the love-triangle. As Stephanie Zacharek of Film.com puts it: ““The Host“ gets bogged down in its “who’s kissing whom now?” dynamics, and it becomes all too easy to snicker at it.” This is a missed opportunity to explore larger themes.
Despite the fact that Niccol’s film focuses on the romantic aspect of the story, the young-adult-audience did not hype “The Host” as much as they did “Twilight” and that was noticeable at the box-office. “The Host” turned out to be a complete flop. The film had a 40 million dollar budget, but it made only 26 million dollar back. Perhaps even the young target audience demands higher drama than the romantic triangle nonsense “The Host” has to offer.
Even when Niccol’s focus is not on the romance for a few minutes, the film still feels ludicrous and without feeling. For example, the members of the human resistance are constantly talking about how the souls have destroyed their lives and their world – but there is no clear evidence of their hurting. Uncle Jeb tells the audience of the effect that the souls have had on society in the first lines of the film: “Our world has never been more perfect.” Even if you have read the novel, you find yourself annoyingly wondering what the human’s problem is – the world is perfect, what are they all bickering about?
Fortunately, the costume and production design is one the few aspects that did honor Meyer’s novel. The designers have created a futuristic look that reflects the nature of the souls: simple, pure and clean. The costumes, too, represents this idea for both the souls and the humans. The souls are dressed in clean whites, with silver vehicles to match. Instead of guns, they use sprays as weapons, which fits the peaceful attitude of the souls really well. This is in sharp contrast to the opposite team of the humans, who are hiding out in the desert, dress in clothes in Earth tones that are caked with mud, representing their hard life hiding out in caves.
Apart from the costume and production design, “The Host” is a disappointment, a bore and a waste of talent. The film forgoes the complexity of Meyer’s novel and reduces it to a simplistic romance. Because of the poor writing, the impressive cast of “The Host” gives nothing but poor performances and the screenplay cannot even interest the young-adult audience, which lead to a box-office flop. Film critics around the globe agree: “The Host” is one of the worst films of 2013.