- - Thursday, March 28, 2013

“The Host” has all the makings of a cult classic. Years from now, when its core audience of tweens has grown up, this bizarrely misconceived sci-fi romance will be gleefully ridiculed in dorm rooms and group houses. It will inspire drinking games. Its central narrative technique will go down forever as a cinematic “don’t”.

As in: Don’t make a movie based on two individuals sharing the same body and voice in which one character speaks and the other communicates in voiceover.

It’s this jarring device that offers the first hint that “The Host” is a special kind of  bad movie. At the screening I attended, the first instance of the voiceover elicited a smattering of nervous laughter, as people began to wonder if this could really go on for the entire movie. (It can, and it does.)

In “The Host,” Earth has been invaded by species of tranquil and extremely tasteful parasites called Souls. These fuzzy creatures — a sort of luminescent space caterpillar — take over host bodies and endeavor to perfect life on the planet by ending war, conserving the environment, and always being super helpful and trustworthy. They also infuse the eyes of their victims with an eerie, telltale glow. However, not everyone is down with the program.

Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) is doing her best to keep out of the clutches of the Souls. However, she’s forced to sacrifice herself to make sure her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury) and her sort-of boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) can escape to join the human resistance to the invasion. She wakes up sharing her consciousness with another sentient being, called the Wanderer. Melanie, being feisty and irrepressible, bickers with her body snatcher, and eventually persuades the Wanderer to ditch the crew of minders who are plumping her for information stored in Melanie’s memories.

These minders, called Seekers, are a special caste of Souls. They work in spare, modern settings, wear minimalist cream colored suits, and though they look like refugees from an Eileen Fisher catalog shoot, they are in fact in charge of policing resistance to their takeover of Earth by the remnant human population. The Seeker in charge of Melanie’s case (played by Diane Kruger) is a little edgier and perhaps less mindful than the average Soul. When Melanie/Wanderer light out for a remote desert mesa that houses the resistance, the Seeker treks after her like a body-snatching Inspector Javert.

Melanie/Wanderer find the resistance — and a lot more. Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt) has transformed a lattice of interconnected caves into a home for a few humans who have escaped the alien onslaught. There Melanie is reunited with her brother and Jared. But the Wanderer (whose name is truncated to Wanda) has eyes for the hunky Ian (Jake Abel). This leads to some predictably awkward moments, as Melanie is a little resistant to having her stolen body used as a makeout vector by an alien.

There’s a lot of almost making out in “The Host,” which extends the theme of suppressed teen sexuality its creator Stephanie Meyer developed in the “Twilight” series. In one early scene, Jared shows his sensitivity by rebuffing what appear to be sexual overtures from Melanie by assuring her that even if they were the last man and woman on earth (a reasonable possibility given their circumstances) that Jared would not pressure Melanie into doing anything she wasn’t comfortable with.

Oddly, “The Host” isn’t terrible to watch. The acting is straightforward, without a hint of campiness or snarky awareness. The stakes are life and death, but the tone of the dialogue is oddly mundane. Stylistically, it’s even stranger, with the sleek costumes of the Seekers contrasting the muted earth tones favored by the resistance. There aren’t production goofs of the type associated with midnight sci-fi movies. Yet there’s no getting around the fact that “The Host” is a terrible movie. It’s a bit like watching a graceful, arching dive into a pool with no water: hard to watch, but sort of hard not to.

TITLE: “The Host”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; Based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer

RATING: PG-13 for mild violence.

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes. 

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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