Stephenie Meyer is worse than a bad writer. She’s an anti-writer. At least bad writing features things like conflict and rising action: hackneyed, silly or poorly rendered perhaps, but by God things happen in bad writing. Meyer’s writing, on the other hand, is specifically designed to remove all of that. In my mind’s eye, I imagine her strapping good concepts down to a mad scientist’s table, and draining them of their dramatic potential as they shriek in agony. What if she gets a hold of the classics?! Can you fathom Lady Macbeth mooning about who loves her the most for five unbearable acts, or a blank-faced Heathcliff mumbling Hallmark platitudes to Catherine for hour after agonizing hour? That’s anti-writing: a black hole pulling everything beautiful and decent about the creative process into its ravenous maw.
The Host is the latest adaptation of her abominable work, a movie so dull and wrong-headed that you can actually see the good idea at its core dying in front of us. It starts with an Invasion of the Body Snatchers scenario in which alien parasites how possessed almost every human on Earth. The twist? Things actually get a lot better. War ends, violence and injustice vanish, and the Earth has a chance to heal. What a marvelous notion: a chance to debate serious moral ideas within a tried-and-true framework while-
Oh yeah, the anti-writing. Please shelve the philosophical musings in favor of another shitty Meyer love triangle, populated by one-note characters and the kind of moral subtext that usually precedes cult suicides. A still-free human girl named Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) gets captured and implanted with an alien “Soul” called the Wanderer. Now trapped in her own body, Melanie somehow convinces the creature to turn against its fellows and help her find her family, now deeply involved in the human resistance. (Said resistance apparently involves growing grain in caves and raiding generic supermarkets in the middle of the night. Anything else would involve actual conflict, and we can’t have that.)
In any case, the group also contains a pair of interchangeable bo-hunks (Max Irons and Jake Abel): one of whom is already in love with Melanie and one of whom falls in love with the Wanderer. We can’t really tell why, since neither half of the girl demonstrates any interesting traits and the boys literally have no definable personality of their own. This isn’t love, it’s a trio of living props aping the movements of love. Considering that Ronan remains one of the brightest young actresses on the scene today, her onscreen drowning here speaks to the unspeakable power of anti-writing.
Meyer’s trademark terror of sexuality remains in full force as well, with schizophrenic gestures of violence and contempt slapped onto physical contact as a way of creating “troubled relationships.” Most of the spooning scenes end with somebody getting physically struck and/or Mel’s disembodied voice shrieking “Ick! Boys!” every time the Wanderer locks lips with one of her flavorless leading men. As with the Twilight films, The Host actively encourages its young female audience to fear their bodies. It would be funny if we didn’t see so many girls cheerfully buying into it.
Naturally, we’re expected to embrace the soppy musings of the three central nitwits, even as they stagger through a mess of half-assed non-events that we’ll generously call a story. Intriguing questions arise – how the aliens conquered us, why they insist on emulating our culture, how they balance their vaunted decency with the need to snuff out human identity – only to be routinely ignored in favor of Ronan (literally) arguing with herself. Writer-director Andrew Niccol slips into the same trap as his leading lady, hamstrung by the material and helpless to uncover anything worth watching within it. Few science fiction worlds are as poorly developed – or boring – as this one, with no thought given to the countless questions of logic or plausibility that spring up like Roman legions. We get just a few shiny cars and some hand waving about interstellar travel: handsomely presented, but as barren as the desert landscape they constantly patrol. Science fiction, teen romance, meditation on humanity… pick your poison and The Host fails. Spectacularly. Epically. In ways that make you question the sanity of everyone involved.
Perhaps its most troubling aspect is the way its heroine acts as a soulless cypher on which the audience can imprint their own qualities. We’ve apparently become so disconnected from our fellow human beings that we can only identify with a character who matches us in every possible way. That narcissism runs through Meyer’s work like a bad rash, an explanation for both its ongoing popularity and utter moral repugnance. The Host turns a good filmmaker into an inept coward and a strong actor into a stammering mannequin, indisputable evidence that anti-writing destroys everything that it touches. We can only wait with trembling fear to see what horrors the author will inflict on us next.