*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
Frustrated with his lot, London banker Robert Atkinson (Mike Beckingham) decides to borrow some money from his place of work. The problem is that the money he’s borrowed is from a new customer and subsequently losing it all – and then some – at a poker table isn’t really what he’d planned. At this point, in steps the mysterious Lau Hoi Ho (Togo Igawa), who promises to give Robert £150,000 if he goes to Amsterdam to deliver a package, no questions asked.
With a central character prone to making wrong decision on top of wrong decision and getting progressively more out of his depth in a criminal underworld he is clearly not built to inhabit, so far so pulpy thriller, right? And this is more or less the case until he arrives in The Netherlands, where a double booking of his original hotel room leads him to Vera (Maryam Hassoumi), who lives in a huge, spectacular house where she looks after her father and puts up the odd guest out of the kindness of her heart.
This is where The Host’s crime caper of a first act gives way to a horror mystery in its second as Robert and Vera get to know each other a little better and, as is the way, it’s not long before it’s clear that something weird is going on. There follows a spectacularly nasty surprise as Lau Hoi Ho’s employees get wise to Robert’s change of address and…
Okay, so obviously I’m not going to tell you what the nasty surprise is because it’s somewhat unexpected, it’s extremely grisly and rather took me aback. It’s the single best scene in the film by a long chalk and at that moment in time I went from reasonably interested to completely hooked, ready for the story to truly take off. I’m so disappointed, not to mention somewhat irked, that it almost immediately reverted to a plodding DEA vs Triads tale and that single, genuinely demented spark was snuffed out.
The Host is far from being a terrible movie but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be. The horror elements, as sporadically effective as they are, seem tacked on and as a thriller it’s short on actual thrills. It contains all the elements you know and love – a naïve anti-hero in too deep, an agent out for revenge, a MacGuffin in, yes, a briefcase – but appears more concerned with getting over the line than mounting any particularly memorable set-pieces.
This approach effectively kills much of the suspense that might have been generated along the way. There’s potential intrigue to be mined from such sub-plots as Vera’s strange relationship with her father but any conceivably engrossing threads are side-lined in favour of tedious, procedural clumping around, moody shots of a character who needs justice to be served, damn it, and a second half which throws its focus on to Robert’s brother Steve (played by Dougie Poynter, you may also know him from a band called McFly). When the plot finally pivots back, the reveal about the dad, even though you can probably see it coming, should still be a welcome shocker but it’s frustratingly underplayed.
The denouement can’t save the day either, fizzling out not once but twice as matters are settled neatly with nary a pulse-quickening race against time or desperate final face-off in sight. It amounts to a shrug of an ending, tying up most of the loose ends in perplexingly flat fashion before heading back to a familiar location for one last “ah, but….” moment. As a last-minute kicker it’s fine, but no more than that.
Given a stronger, pacier plot and with more than a passing nod to its horror trappings, The Host would have landed with me far more than it did. That said, the performances are all decent, including the aforementioned Dougie Poynter who does a perfectly fine job with something of an underwritten role. In fact, there’s some bonafide thesping pedigree here, including Derek Jacobi, who appears at the beginning and the end as a therapist, and the great Jeroen Krabbé in a part about which I can’t even say you’ll miss him if you blink. You might miss him even if you don’t blink. Please don’t try to keep yourself from blinking for 102 minutes.
There’s attractive location work in London and Amsterdam and some striking imagery – mostly from that unexpectedly punchy scene midway through the proceedings – but overall the screenplay is too by the numbers and the tempo too lax for The Host to genuinely grip. As it stands, it’s a serviceable time-passer which is briefly enlivened by one startling detour into the deranged. That aside, you’d be pushed to remember much else from this one. If this is ever on the slate for a redo, I’d be wanting much more of Vera and much less of the law enforcement guys next time, please.
THE HOST is available now through all on demand platforms.