Max Irons-Saoirse Ronan-485
Photo by Alan Markfield – Courtesy of Open Road Films

Having suffered through the last two installments of the heavy-breathing Twilight Saga, I wasn’t eager to see the latest film based on a novel by Stephenie Meyer. The only reason I had any hope was the presence of Saoirse Ronan in the leading role—and indeed, this uncommonly gifted Irish actress is the main reason the film doesn’t completely implode.

The time is the future. Earth is at peace because human beings have been replaced by aliens, who now inhabit their bodies. These supposedly nonviolent creatures have already taken over other planets, with equal success. But some humans still remain, like Melanie Stryder (Ronan), who is willing to die rather than surrender and abandon her little brother and boyfriend.

Diane Kruger plays The Seeker, a steely figure who sees to it that Melanie ultimately submits. She doesn’t realize that her latest victim’s spirit is so strong that it survives inside the mind of her new “host,” who’s known as The Wanderer. (I’m not making this up.)

At this point, fairly early on, The Wanderer, easily identifiable by her creepy, luminescent eyes, discovers that she’s in a constant tug-of-war with her former “self.” Only an actress as expressive as Ronan could pull this off without looking ludicrous.

But what she is able to avoid the film itself cannot. Melanie prods The Wanderer to travel to a remote spot where Mel’s wise old uncle (William Hurt) looks after a small colony of human survivors, including her little brother and boyfriend (Max Irons). Most of these desperate folks don’t trust the new, creepy-eyed girl who looks like the old Melanie—but Hurt does. And wouldn’t you just know, a love triangle emerges as one of the hunky young guys falls in love with The Wanderer while Irons rekindles his feelings for the “inner” Melanie. It’s Team Edward and Team Jacob all over again, but even cheesier, supported by the same kind of new-agey music that dominated the recent Twilight episodes.

I expected something better from writer-director Andrew Niccol, whose track record is spotty (S1mOne, Lord of War, In Time) but whose ambitions are great. Even a writer as experienced as he couldn’t make the densely cluttered denouement of The Host understandable to a simple viewer like me.

The saving grace of this silly movie is Saoirse Ronan. She validates The Host, as much as anyone could, the way Jennifer Lawrence anchors The Hunger Games. Watching her radiant face, and hearing her flawless American accent, is almost worth the price of admission. Almost.