Three readings of The Host:
1. Boring girl stuff I don't care about because I'm a 13-year-old boy and Twilight is stupid.
2. Three hot, vaguely similar (okay, yes, nearly identical) boys want me? I'm all they think about? And one of them even wants to hurt me but only because he doesn't yet understand my multifaceted specialness so just wait because eventually he will? Thank you, Stephenie Meyer, for understanding my deepest desires.
3. Take the first and second readings and extract the strands of truth. It's a strange, sometimes dramatically inert film about a young girl named Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) inhabited by a thousand-year-old, glowing jellyfish thing with a million tendrils, an entity that turns Melanie into a humanish alien called "Wanderer." Instead of dying, Melanie fights from inside and sets Wanderer on the run. She finds a cave full of humans -- including those three boys, one of whom Melanie loved before the jellyfish assumed control of her body and turned her eyes ice-blue -- who are also resisting the alien invasion.
And why are they resisting? Good question, since the alien race has eliminated hunger, war and violence. They're unfailingly polite and generous and, sure, kind of boring, but at least everything is clean and orderly and nobody has to live in a cave. Also, their cars are extremely shiny and fast. In other words, why fight them at all other than out of sheer animal stubbornness and a chance to be grubby for eternity?
The film ignores this in favor of dwelling on a Seeker (Diane Kruger) hunting down Melanie/Wanderer with a steadfastly diminishing politeness. More importantly, it indulges in the maddening thrill of the young girl(s) as mesmerizing object(s) of focus for not one but three attractive suitors, which plays fully into the mounting confusion over the movie's real agenda (maybe nothing more than coded, Twilight-style moralizing over female agency; we'll have to wait for the sequel to find out). But that push-and-pull of desire is also part of the tween friction it wants to rub all over you. Space-Ronan kisses a boy and her inner human screams "NO!," slaps the confused male, then runs off to brood by a rock, staring into space. It will make sense to some of you.
It's never as unusual or interesting as the unjustly ignored Beautiful Creatures, but it is strange, and that counts for something. It's the kind of movie that should be seen by its target audience, if for no other reason than it might promote discussion about conflicting sexual desires, ideas about adolescent female identity and how most of the time that conversation is squashed into silence. Do you control your own body? Does someone else? If it were a smarter, more self-aware film, it would be a kind of distant, gleaming, pop cousin to the Romanian art-house object of despair, Beyond the Hills. In that one, the resisting woman is determined to be possessed, not by an alien, but by a demon. Of course, what they call it doesn't matter; she's still bothering men and something's got to give, even if it means involuntary exorcism.
Without giving too much away, a ray of hope flickers through near the end, as Ronan's dual identity experiences a sort of sisterhood epiphany, a peace about co-existing with the conflict inside you. But the film itself isn't assured enough to push through to what that could mean for her; it's got boys to satisfy and cave-makeouts to deal with. Deep thoughts are for whenever. Later maybe.