By Emma Street
Warning: spoilers for The Host follow!
After the success of the Twilight franchise, movie execs must have been up to their eyeballs in pitches for The Next Twilight. “It’s like Twilight but with yetis instead of vampires”, for example. Or with Merpeople. Or Robotic Monkeys. Or Parasitic Aliens!
The Host, on general release at the moment, has a better claim than most as The Next Twilight given that it shares Twilight’s author, Stephenie Meyer and is squarely pitched at the same fan base.
Like Twilight, The Host has an attractive teenage female protagonist, weird goings on and dialogue so clunky that I’m not sure Meyer has actually ever heard people speak. It’s not so bad when her words are said by centuries old vampires or alien species new to our language (and possibly the concept of speaking altogether) but it makes no sense for human characters to sound like they learnt English from 18th century gothic novels translated into Japanese and back again.
The promotional posters have emphasised the film’s central love triangle. In this case, given that there are two people inhabiting the same body it’s more of a love square. Or a virtual love square contained within a physical love triangle. Love geometry becomes complicated when your planet has been taken over by alien parasites.
These aliens – who look like a cross between a sea anemone and a Christmas tree decoration – have commandeered Earth by implanting themselves in our bodies, taking over our minds and then running the planet better than we ever managed to do by eradicating hunger, war and poverty. They display a gold ring around the iris of their inhabited human which is handy for identification purposes. The film establishes that this is happening all over the world by showing us a shot of a tribesman in the Kalahari and a Frenchman in a stripy jumper standing in front of the Eiffel Tower or something. After that, we should just assume that the whole world really just means some selected bits of America.
Our heroes are Melanie Stryder and Wanderer, the alien Mel has living in her head, who escape the shiny white alien headquarters to join her little brother and buff boyfriend, Jared at her Uncle Jeb’s resistance group’s hideout. Unlike most humans and the docile inhabitants of the previous planets that the aliens have colonised and improved, Mel is determined to put up a fight.
It’s hard to summon up any enthusiasm for the human rebels though. Not just because we have entered at the end of the story and humanity has already lost. This rag-tag bunch of human survivors are pretty rubbish.
If you live in a world where a quick glance at your eyes can confirm whether you are on the right side or the wrong side, wearing sunglasses if you need to get out and about might seem like a good strategy. Less so if you consider that none of the aliens ever wears sunglasses ever. And it doesn’t really help if you only put the shades on when the aliens are already walking towards you.
Wanderer needs to convince the humans that she’s on their side and that Mel’s alive and well despite not being in charge of her own body any more. Luckily, Uncle Jeb’s a wise old man who just knows, man, so he’s on board.
Jared comes by acceptance in a fairly odd way by telling Wanderer that he doesn’t believe Mel is still inside the body and then trying to kiss her. He gets slapped which is apparently all the evidence he needs. It’s a particularly Stephenie Meyer bit of logic.
Kissing was usually convoluted in the Twilight films, as well. People have weird reactions to being kissed. People kiss other people for odd reasons. It’s never just about making out.
The other member of the love shape is Ian – a slightly wonky faced corn-fed type. He has no problem believing absolutely anything that Wanderer (now called Wanda) chooses to tell him. He’s very keen to introduce her to the earth concept of kissing and is adamant that he is totally into the purity of Wanda’s soul and isn’t just gagging for it having spent months holed up in an underground cave without a girlfriend.
The earthlings have a plan to work out how the aliens attach themselves to a host and to try to separate the two. Well, I say ‘plan’. They hit some people over the head, scoop the alien life forms out of their necks with a spoon and then dump the mess on the floor. Wanda is understandably upset both by the murder of her people and by their lack of well-applied scientific practices.
She then has a spat with Melanie which involves her going off in a strop somewhere – it’s best not to ponder the mechanics of that too deeply. This leaves Wanda with no choice but to embark on some calculated kissing, first with Ian then with Jared, in order to try to connect with Mel. This is what your audience has paid to see: attractively messed up teens kissing each other for implausible reasons.
While everyone at Uncle Jeb’s hideout is busy kissing, or scooping or bringing in the harvest from the underground wheat fields like subterranean versions of the pilgrim forefathers, they are being hunted by the Alien Bad Guy who has forgotten that she is part of a logical hive mind as is pursuing the escapee for her own reasons.
Wanda shows the humans how to defeat their alien overlords by removing the sparkly sea anemone from the Bad Guy’s head and sending it away in a little space pod. Presumably to enslave another poor unsuspecting planet but, hey, it’s not Earth so fuck ‘em.
Having introduced the humans to a plan which absolutely hinges on her involvement, Wanda decides that this would be a perfect time to commit suicide. Despite the fact she’s the only one who really understands the procedure at this point. And she’s the only non-human and therefore the only one who procure the supplies and equipment. And Mel’s perfectly happy for her to stick around in her body. And even if she left Mel’s body she needn’t die anyway as she has just that moment demonstrated. So her dying would achieve absolutely bloody nothing. They’ve got six billion people to de-implant here, love, you don’t think you can stick around and help for a bit?
Still, it gives her the opportunity for a nice deathbed scene so she can tell her new found friends that she has finally found something worth dying for – Mel and her brother and Jared and Ian, of course, because she loves him desperately. The stupid alien bint clearly hasn’t worked out the point of dying for someone but she learnt some folksy American rhetoric and that’s what counts.
Luckily it works out OK and her friends find a replacement human body that nobody was using and stick glittery Wanda in. By an enormous stroke of fortune, the body in question belongs to beautiful 24 year old Emily Browning and not George Takei or something. Not that Ian would mind, obviously, as he only loves Wanda for her soul. Although it’s possible there’s a deleted scene with Ian inspecting a pile of corpses saying “Not that one, not that one, no, no, hang on – that one I’d fuck!”
Given the contrived stupidity of the final scene, (really, your escape plan was to stand around, do nothing and hope for an unbelievable bit of good luck? Lucky that worked out for you) I’d say the humans have no chance at all of getting the earth back.
That said, Stephenie Meyer has said that she is writing a follow-up book and plans to make The Host into a trilogy. Maybe things will work out for humankind after all.
My guess is that Jared will discover an unexpected power which renders him unusable to the aliens, Ian and Wanda will have a mutant alien-earth baby and the love square will be further complicated by some lovelorn robotic space monkeys. And there will be lots more melodramatic kissing, obviously.
The Host is on general release now.
Emma Street follows a different celebrity fitness workout DVD each week and then mocks it.