For her next trick played on pop culture, Twilight saga novelist Stephenie Meyer went for the old body snatchers routine. You know, aliens invading not only Earth but Earthling bodies, a recurring sci-fi idea since Kevin McCarthy screamed "You're next!" into the camera 57 years ago.
Meyer's story The Host is different, though, and worse for it. It really doesn't seem scary or even bad that aliens are snatching human bodies. A prologue informs us that the invaders, an itinerant intergalactic species called "Souls" has already taken over almost all human life forms. The result is a planet where people are nice to each other, polite without hesitation and averse to killing.
The Souls and their hunter subspecies Seekers apparently spruced up their new homes, because there isn't a single physically unattractive being in Andrew Niccol's movie based on Meyer's novel. They have fluorescent blue eyes, wear clinically chic white fashion, travel in Mylar-shiny sports cars and helicopters, and are infallibly genial even when humans threaten to kill them. Where do we sign up to be Souls?
The only obvious drawback to being a Soul is when the snatched body isn't willing to give up. That means the human's voice keeps rattling around your head, protesting what you're doing and offering unwanted advice. That's so human.
It's especially annoying when the voice belongs to a teenager like Melanie Stryker (Saoirse Ronan), a Louisiana girl with no trace of Southern accent and an abundance of spunk. Ronan is too good as an actor (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) to be stuck talking to herself for two hours like she's on Bluetooth. And her Soul side, named Wanderer or Wendy depending on your species, actually buys into what Melanie says about free will.
Subversives like Melanie are sought by Seekers and their eponymous ice queen leader (Diane Kruger). One hopes for just one creepy pod or slimy tentacle to pop forth, if only to believe Meyer and Niccol are trying to establish some level of body snatching terror. Instead, we get glowing, nebulous dust bunnies inserted into or drawn from small incisions.
The closest that Niccol comes to horror in The Host is by diving into the post-adolescent romance that is Meyer's specialty. Melanie/Wendy attracts the affections of two young humans who have dodged becoming Souls: Jared (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) and Ian (Jake Abel), creating the first three-person romantic rectangle I can recall in movies. You can imagine the awkward arguments that Melanie/Wendy has with herself about who's kissing whom.
The Host doesn't strive for social allegory, as previous body snatcher flicks have done with the Red Scare, civil rights and Watergate. If anything it's merely a teenage girl's fantasy checklist for prom: Which "me" should I be, which guy should I go with, and can we get one of those shiny sports cars to drive?
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.