An alien siren story that’s steamy but soulless

The Host finds humanity somewhere in the future, and planet Earth has never been in better shape. There’s no hunger, wars or environmental crisis, and honesty and courtesy are practised by all. The only trouble is that hardly any humans have survived an alien invasion of so-called Souls, who inhabit the bodies of humans (‘hosts’), erase their minds and use their memories to round up more victims.

Based on the Twilight author Stephanie Meyer’s bestselling 2008 novel, The Host is an ostensibly high-concept but philosophically tepid young-adult sci-fi flick, which should be a solid watch as it boasts the talented Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) and a script by writer-director Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show and Gattaca). But the shadow of Meyer hovers over it (rather, her soul inhabits it), meaning Niccol had his work cut out for him to make the film appeal to viewers outside of the target audience.

The action begins when 17-year-old Melanie is captured by a mob of Soul-driven, hijacked humans. Among them, an uncharacteristically nasty and autocratic female (Kruger) supervises the installation of a Soul named Wanderer into Mel’s body. However, as Wanderer finds Mel’s mind too powerful to fully control and her memories too appealing to exploit, the initial struggle between the two morphs into some kind of an alliance, though resulting in a decidedly split and schizoid personality. Several flashbacks alert Wanderer to Melanie’s past, which involved an Adam and Eve-esque relationship with the handsome Jared (Irons), now part of a small resistance hiding in a volcano in the southwestern US. On the romantic side, several massive dilemmas arise when the invaded Melanie reunites with Jared, especially since Wanderer develops a simultaneous crush on the equally strapping Ian (Abel).

It all comes across as something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Avatar or War of the Worlds, and while it presents a capable vehicle for themes of love and identity, there’s a regrettable overweight of sentimentality and adolescent self-admiration. What’s more, several steamy montages involving kissing in all kinds of weather are so shamelessly graphic, they’re very nearly nauseating.

The Host (11)

Dir: Andrew Niccol; US sci-fi, 2013, 126 mins; Saoirse Ronan, Diane Kruger, Max Irons, William Hurt, Jake Abel

Premieres March 28
Playing nationwide