A little bit of background for those who may have missed it: all this past week I watched the Twilight movies (most of which for the first time) and tweeted my responses to each film. Needless to say the results were a mix of absolutely painful boredom occasionally interspersed with moments of unintentional (or perhaps entirely intentional in the case of Bill Condon) hilarity and a general quality of disturbing narrative events. I have talked enough trash on Twilight over the years that I felt somewhat obliged to at least sit through all the movies and boy do I feel justified, now more than ever, calling them insane, thematically bizarre pieces of trash. But I wasn’t smart enough to stop there. No, I thought I’d go all out and see the newest of Stephenie Meyer’s film adaptations: The Host.
The Host is set in a future where an alien race has invaded our planet. The aliens are a parasitic race that bond to a host species and take over their consciousness. Melanie Stryder is a young woman who is in hiding with her brother Jamie and boyfriend Jared trying to escape capture from the invading force, but in an attempt to save her brother gets captured and bonded with an alien who goes by the name of Wanderer. Wanderer attempts to access Melanie’s memories to gather information on the location of other humans, but Melanie uses the small amount of consciousness she’s managed to retain to fight back against Wanderer’s control. Melanie finally manages to convince Wanderer to escape the alien compound and help her find Jamie and Jared. When they come across a hidden human settlement, they are taken prisoner for fear that Wanderer might try to report their location to the villainous Seekers. Because this is a Stephenie Meyer story a love triangle quickly begins to form between Melanie, Jared, and Ian, a boy that Wanderer develops feelings for.
I, and many others, have said it before, but it bears repeating: Stephenie Meyer is an awful writer who has no sense for story or characters. That last part is potentially the worst offense. Character is arguably the most important aspect of any story, but particularly in romance, the kind of stories Meyer likes to tell, it is absolutely fundamental. You can’t have an effective romance if you don’t care about or believe the characters, and yet Meyer has managed to make millions of dollars on her stories that feature the most bland, shallow, uninteresting characters imaginable. Tell me, what character traits does Bella from Twilight have beyond being in love with Edward? What defines her as a character other than that one detail? It’s hard to come up with anything, right? Because she doesn’t have a character. She merely is whatever the plot requires her to be at that particular moment in the story. Similarly, none of the characters in The Host feel like real people. The two love interests are just generic handsome young men who exist only to be the objects of affection of Melanie and Wanderer, and our two (sort of) leads are painfully one-note and uninteresting.
Part of this problem stems from the structuring of the beginning of the story. I have not read the book, but from a quick skimming of the first few chapters the book seemed to follow the structure of the movie here, so I’m going to go ahead and blame Meyer for this problem, but if I’m totally off base please let me know in the comments. That being said, the film opens with Wanderer being bonded to Melanie and just jumps right on into Melanie’s struggle against Wanderer before we even know who she is as a character. They attempt to bring us up to speed through a series of flashbacks, but it never really serves to establish anything beyond expository information that is mostly not terribly necessary. We learn that Melanie’s father killed himself to save her and her brother from the Seekers, we learn that the two of them met up with Jared and began hiding out together, but these scenes do nothing to establish an emotional core to the character of Melanie. I’m sure Meyer thought that she was being fiendishly clever using a more unconventional narrative approach, but let’s face it, when you’re as weak of a writer as Meyer is, it’s best to stick to convention.
The problem here is that Meyer undermines the audience’s connection to the characters and the story. The scene where Melanie is implanted with Wanderer should be emotional and upsetting for the audience, but by making it the very first thing that happens in the story we don’t know enough about Melanie to care. We don’t feel the pain of loss because we’re not losing anything; Melanie has not existed for us yet, and so the threat of her going away means nothing.
As the story progresses, things don’t get much better. Wanderer, who starts off being a threat to Melanie and her loved ones suddenly has a heel-face turn and decides she really, really wants to be good and decides to help out Melanie, and once the two of them reach the human settlement the plot of the film stops dead in its tracks while we’re forced to sit through more than an hour of awkward dialogue and unromantic love triangles. All the while the audience’s bored minds are free to wander to other issues like why a peaceful, nonviolent alien race that doesn’t lie or steal was able to overthrow the whole of humanity.
The most frustrating thing about The Host is that the premise actually isn’t bad. There’s some interesting ideas there and there’s the potential for an intriguing subtext, but it’s all wasted. Stephenie Meyer can’t do subtext, she can barely write coherent text, and it’s very clear that Meyer was far less interested in the science fiction story than she was in creating another awkward and pointless love triangle. From what I’ve seen of her work it’s clear that Meyer is completely obsessed with sex, but she lacks any kind of adult understanding of it. Her views on sexual relationships are at best immature and at worst downright terrifying (do I need to bring up the subject of Jacob “imprinting” on Bella’s new born baby?) and while the relationships in The Host never reach the depravity of the worst of Twilight it still shows a stunning lack of maturity. In Meyer’s mind if you have romantic feelings for more than one person it’s absolutely okay to engage in intimate relationships with both of them at the same time and everyone should be totally okay with that. Each conflicting side should be allowed to indulge in its desires and no one will be hurt in the process.
Conflict is the foundation of drama, yet Meyer is completely adverse to it. This not only is apparent in the internal conflicts of her characters, but also the entire conflict of the story. I’ve already talked about this element of the love triangle, but even the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer suffers from this. The conflict between the two characters only exists for the first 20 minutes or so of the film before the two characters suddenly become best friends (despite one of them overtaking the other’s body). This sucks any weight out of the rest of the story; the conflict between the characters is over so why should we stick around for another hour and 40 minutes to see what happens when they’ve already come to terms with their situation. Look at Toy Story, for example. The conflict between Buzz and Woody was the core of that movie, and while they ultimately solved that conflict the road to get to that point is what made the story interesting. Imagine if Buzz and Woody had become best friends right after Buzz flew around the room with his eyes closed, how boring would that movie have been? Things like Buzz’s identity crisis, Woody’s desire to get back to Andy, and the famous gas station scene would all have been completely empty.
Even when it comes time to end the movie, Meyer pulls a similar groan worthy stunt to the ending of Twilight and negates even the most minimal amounts of interest the narrative had by cheating. Everything has to be tied up in a nice pretty bow so that every character, even the bad guy, gets a perfect happy ending. It’s inane, and quite frankly it’s insulting.
There was just nothing good about this film; at least a few of the Twilight movies had entertaining moments of camp, but The Host is just morose and painfully dull. Everything from the characters to the production design is completely uninteresting (in the future apparently all of our stuff will look just like it does today, it’ll just be painted chrome) and the few interesting ideas the story have are completely undermined by Meyer’s failings as a story teller.
It may seem unfair to blame the failure of this movie so heavily on the author of the book it was adapted from, and to be fair Andrew Niccol is no cinematic genius, but the biggest problems with this movie are the exact same kinds of problems that plagued Twilight. There’s a pattern that has been established, and that pattern says that Meyer is a lousy story teller, and The Host features all the usual suspects when it comes to her idiosyncratic awfulness.