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Stephenie Meyer’s Forgotten Sci-Fi Romance Was an Ambitious, Angsty Flop

In 2013, Twilight but with aliens sounded like a winning pitch.

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Jake Abel and Saoirse Ronan in The Host
Open Road
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In hindsight, most are able to admit that Stephenie Meyer’s written works aren’t exactly winners. But back in the early 2010s, claiming as much was nothing short of sacrilege, at least to her rabid fans. At the top of the decade, Meyer’s Twilight had made the lucrative jump from page to screen. The adaptation was a camp classic waiting to happen (back then, that wasn’t a compliment), but it snowballed into an international phenomenon, effectively jumpstarting the YA boom of the late aughts.

Meyer’s name, and all she touched, became synonymous with commercial acclaim. Though interest in teen-focused romance seemed to wane as the Twilight saga closed, Hollywood was keen to keep the trend alive. That led to diminishing returns across the board, from The Mortal Instruments to Beautiful Creatures to Vampire Academy. By 2013, the YA craze was pretty much dead. Ironically, it ended where it began: with a Stephenie Meyer story.

The Host, it’s been said, is Twilight with aliens. The comparison is fair. Meyer wrote The Host between her work on the final Twilight novels, and the two share more than a few similarities. The headstrong female lead and forbidden romance at the heart of the Twilight saga are both present in The Host, but the latter uses its gonzo sci-fi premise to craft an angsty alien invasion flick.

A parasitic alien species has invaded Earth Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style. These aliens, called “souls,” have traveled from planet to planet for millennia, taking over the minds of indigenous species and overriding their less-than-savory traits. They’ve crafted idyllic societies, eliminating war, famine, and poverty wherever they go, and they intend to do the same on Earth.

As with so many invasion stories, the souls have underestimated humanity’s Herculean will. Humans are resisting their enforced utopia, and forming new underground societies the souls can’t reach. When a veteran soul called Wanderer arrives on Earth, she’s placed in the body of a captured rebel fighter, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), and tasked with riffing through her memories to locate the hidden resistance base.

Saoirse Ronan’s earnest commitment is almost enough to redeem The Host.

Open Road Pictures

Normally, assimilating into a human body is a seamless process. But Melanie refuses to concede to Wanderer, which results in a battle of wills. Melanie is determined to regain control of her body and return to her old life, her younger brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her gruff freedom fighter boyfriend Jared (Max Irons). But Wanderer isn’t going anywhere. The longer she spends in Melanie’s body, the more she starts to covet Melanie’s life — and her man! — for herself.

The romance teases big questions about our notions of love and attachment. As Wanderer starts to fall for Jared (or, at least, for Melanie’s memories of him), we’re forced to ask whether this love is genuine. Things get even more complicated when Wanderer and Melanie set out to find Jared and his rebel cell. The souls are naturally repulsive to humans, Jared especially, which adds a new level of angst. Then there’s the introduction of Ian (Jake Abel), a kindhearted rebel that bonds with Wanderer and turns a tepid love triangle into a lusty rhombus.

But for all its ambitious ideas about will, control, and attraction, The Host failed to match the other YA adaptations of its era. The film was directed by Andrew Niccol, the mind behind Gattaca and The Truman Show, but also In Time, another much-maligned attempt at a speculative sci-fi dystopia. His love for gorgeous, sprawling locales and even prettier leads are both on full display, but when it comes time to dig into the meaty topics of Meyer’s 600-page novel, The Host rings hollow.

Maybe it’s too big a story for a movie, or maybe it tried to jump on the Twilight bandwagon a little too late. Either way, there’s a thought-provoking tale lurking just beneath the surface, and it’s intriguing to chart the rise and fall of such a lucrative niche through the work of one author.

The Host is now streaming on Max.

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