Host, The: Meyer’s Follow-Up to The Twilight Series

Author-producer Stephenie Meyer follows up the “Twilight” series, which has dominated teen pop culture for too many years, with the “Host” series, debuting with its first film, “The Host.”

No more vampires, no more wolverines: A shrewd but not a particularly good writer, Meyer has moved on to aliens with this sci-fi romance/Western. As in the “Twilight” films, “The Host” centers on a love triangle built around a young woman making her first big steps into adult life.

“The Host,” written and directed by Andrew Niccol (“In Time,” “Gattaca”), is at least initially more compelling story-wise and visually than the “Twilight” films. It’s also spookier and much weirder. But the dialogue’s inane throughout, and eventually this movie jumps off a cliff it’s created for itself.

In the not-too distant future, aliens have taken over the world in the style of “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”: inhabiting human bodies, wiping out all human memories, and ironically achieving peace on Earth at last. Everyone still looks human, except for their glowing eyes, but the real humans among them are few and far between—and must keep themselves hidden lest they become captured and evicted from their own bodies.

An alien named Wanderer (Saoirse Ronan), newly arrived on Earth, can’t get rid of a voice in her head: that of Melanie, the former human occupant of her body and her new Jiminy Cricket. Wanderer spends much of the movie talking to Melanie/herself, which too often is unintentionally humorous—as when Wanderer crashes a car because she and Melanie are arguing in her head. When asked what it’s like to be sharing the same body with Melanie, Wanderer deadpans, “It’s crowded.”

Luckily, both girls are do-gooders. Although they at first hate and distrust each other, they’re stuck together, as in the “Parent Trap” movies, and destined to one day become best friends. But that’ll only happen after endless self-talk that continually brings this movie down.

Melanie convinces Wanderer to take a dangerous trip into the desert to look for Melanie’s loved ones and other rebel survivors. The last humans, who may remind some viewers of Mormon settlers (Meyer’s a devout Mormon), are living in secret caves under the leadership of Melanie’s kind but firm uncle, Jeb (William Hurt).

The movie really starts to lose it way when Wanderer and Melanie inconveniently fall in love with two different guys: Ian (Jake Abel) for Wanda and Jared (Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons) for Melanie. With only one body between them, Wanderer and Melanie have to figure out how to make this work, which turns out to be supremely awkward for all involved—especially the audience.

Ronan amazingly gives a somehow convincing performance, especially considering that she has to be two women from two different worlds in one body, with both characters given a large stack of ridiculously childish lines to work through. Abel and Irons, however, are as bland as can be—neither of them can hope to be the next Robert Pattinson or even Taylor Lautner.

It’s not a particularly good sign when the best film of a writer-director, such as Niccol, is his very first one, “Gattaca,” in 1997, followed by “Ïn Time.” It means that either the director has not developed as a craftsman and/or that he lacks good judgment in choosing material that’s suitable to his skills and talents.

That said, I realize that all of Meyer’s texts have defeated their filmmakers. “The “Twilight” series has been made by various directors, and even intelligent ones, could not salvage the material. As far as I am concerned, none of the “Twilight” chapters has been satisfying dramatically or artistically.

Yet, each installment of “The Twilight” franchise was a bonanza at the domestic and international box-office, and after watching a segment on ABC’s “Nightline,” about Meyer’s growing celebrity status, I have no doubts that the the fans and readers of “The Host” will embrace the picture no matter what critics say.

By Jeff Farr