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"The Host"

On beyond "Twilight"


The millions of fans of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" novels and the execrable film series based on them should take great pleasure in the release of "The Host," the new movie adapted from another of her works. Like the jazz musician who said that after hearing Lawrence Welk he'd have to rethink Guy Lombardo, this picture should make any viewer reflect on the vampire saga. It is so thoroughly awful that it makes those immensely popular flicks look like "Citizen Kane."

Although no vampires darken the brightly sunlit scenes and sequences of "The Host," a somewhat similar concept — the notion of some extra-human force preying on mankind — drives the picture's plot. As an introductory voice-over explains, an alien force has invaded the Earth, transforming its people and cultures into a benign paradise, eliminating conflict, selfishness, violence, want, and all the negative elements that define the world as we know it.

The aliens travel from some distant galaxy, feeding off other beings; they exist as what they call Souls, tangles of brilliant filaments stored in silvery clamshells that they insert into their hosts. Once they take over the bodies, the people they inhabit stare out of bright blue pupils, the only identifying mark. They also dress entirely in white and tool around in snazzy sport cars, so that the males look rather like Good Humor men with routes in an upscale neighborhood.

The Souls capture the protagonist, Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who initially tries to kill herself to escape them, and insert a personality called Wanderer (later shortened to Wanda) into her neck. Melanie's will is so strong, however, that she fights the presence of Wanderer, leading to an ongoing internal dialogue between the two identities that achieves a level of annoyance rarely encountered in the history of the cinema. The internal struggle leads Melanie/Wanda to steal a car, flee to the desert, and eventually link up with a group of actual humans who dwell in caves in an extinct volcano.

Their hostility to the presence of an alien almost leads to murder, but Jeb (William Hurt), the kindly patriarch of the group, believes her story of duality and protects her from some mean members of the community. Melanie reconnects with her old boyfriend Jared (Max Irons), while her Wanda personality falls in love with another young man. What's a girl to do? Those complications add to the really remarkable silliness of the entire movie.

The aliens, led by an uncharacteristically angry commander called Seeker (Diane Kruger), naturally continue to search for Melanie, which leads to several car chases and gun battles between the humans and the hosts. The relentless Seeker refuses to allow even one human to escape the power of the Souls, an attitude that stems from some of the same conditions that exist in Melanie and ultimately solves some of the human problems.

Although its situation somewhat resembles the classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and its excellent sequel, "The Host" lacks the energy, the intelligence, and the sense of menace of those pictures. The bland paradise it creates ultimately seems more comical than threatening: when Melanie/Wanda commandeers a stranger's car, he willingly gives it up, tells her that it is a very reliable vehicle (a Volvo of course), with a full tank of gas. Everybody acts so sweetly in this sterile paradise that the humans even regularly raid supermarkets for supplies while the unsuspecting aliens smile happily at them and charge them nothing.

For an allegedly exciting science-fiction flick, "The Host" simply overflows with banal dialogue and, predictably, juvenile emotionalism. Stephenie Meyer creates amazingly insipid characters, and directors choose appropriately insipid actors to play them, providing the movie with a kind of bizarre perfection; like the "Twilight," series it is remarkably depressing and really difficult to endure for the two hours it requires. The only interesting performer in the whole work is Diane Kruger, lithe, shapely, and blond, who exhibits an antiseptic sexiness in her tight white outfits, an unusual Soul Seeker indeed.

Quite simply, "The Host" is one of the worst motion pictures I have ever seen, the sort of thing that distresses even a devoted critic and inspires a fan of some wonderfully bad flicks to think new thoughts about the art.