SUB-GENRES: Horror / Thriller
DIRECTED BY: Oliver Hirschbiegel
WRITTEN BY: David Kajganich (screenplay); Based on a novel by Jack Finney
PEW PEW: This is certainly the most consistently action-driven of the Body Snatchers adaptations.
CAT FOOD: The Invasion marks a return to deeper social commentary. It drums up some fairly decent questions about chemical psychiatry, and about war and peace and human nature.
Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers and its concept left an indelible mark on me and, as such, the adaptations of the unique story always fascinate me. I believe that Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its subsequent remakes, however terrible some of them were, are staples of science fiction film. For my next several reviews, I plan to take you through all five of the takes on Finney’s idea.
Rick Wakemen once said, when asked why he was rejoining the band Yes after having left them so many times before, that when we’re first conceived in the womb, our sex is ambiguous, and for a time we are indeed both male and female. When it’s decided what our gender is going to be for sure, things definitely get developing, but not without leaving behind a few things from the other sex. It’s ultimately why dudes have nipples. When I first saw The Invasion, to date the final adaptation of Finney’s brilliant concept, I called it a pile of toss and planned on never seeing it again. Mr. Wakeman eventually responded to the interviewer that in rejoining Yes, he was simply exercising the leftover female trait of changing one’s mind. Well, ladies and germs, I’m going to do the same here.
Still far from the best of the adaptations, The Invasion is reasonably entertaining, if a tad lame for a modern, big budget adaptation. It’s hard not to judge the film based on what it could have been. Although my review for 1993’s Body Snatchers states that that film is indeed better than this film, I’m going to go ahead and contradict that right now. This is the best adaptation after the 1956 and 1978 films.
For starters, two major things are restored to make this one more like the first two stellar adaptations. The first is the fact that we get right down to business without wasting a great deal of time on pointless things. There was a definite attempt to make this one more action-oriented and engaging to watch. You can thank the inherent A.D.D. present in modern film goers for that, methinks.
It all begins when a US space shuttle covered in alien spores disintegrates upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, spreading infected debris throughout portions of the world. When touched, the spores enter the body and attack it like a virus, taking over the body. After being activated by R.E.M. sleep, the virus takes over the mind, effectively producing a replacement that is identical in every way, except that it no longer expresses emotion… or, erm, sweats for that matter…
We quickly pick up the film’s chief plot with psychiatrist/single mum Carol Bennell, who begins to notice that many of her patients are becoming paranoid, claiming people they know are not who they once were. Soon, Carol is infected and she, her young son, and her friend-zoned colleague, Dr. Ben Driscoll, find themselves outnumbered and on a frantic mission to avoid sleep and find a cure for the alien virus.
The Invasion is reasonably entertaining, with a lot more going on than in previous adaptations, but while the lack of the ‘podding process’ does make things move a little faster, it severely stunts this adaptation and renders it more than a little uninteresting. Here, Finney’s Body Snatchers concept is reduced to nothing more than your average frantic virus or zombie movie.
So the special effects are kind of crap in this one. Instead of modernising the pod idea, there’s just goop that kind of peals off of skin. Lame. And due to the pod people being created by a virus in this one, they are created in one of three ways: touching the original spores from the doomed space vessel, taking a supposed ‘vaccine’ (which is clearly infected) administered by an already infected CDC, or being barfed on or drinking a beverage that has been barfed in by a pod person.
It’s kind of really fucking gross and doesn’t interest me in the least. I’m a creature movie fan and this new concept just doesn’t work well for me. If we absolutely have to have people infecting people through barf, 28 Days Later remains the best executed example of this device.
A few words on the cast. I’m not nuts about Nicole Kidman from an acting standpoint, but she’s certainly gorgeous and doesn’t do terribly in this role. Supporting her is the ever remarkable Daniel Craig as Ben Driscoll. I have nothing but praise for the man’s work, but he’s wasted in this role, being relegated to the friend zone and having to possess a relatively narrow range of emotions for much of the film.
It’s also of severe note that some brilliant person saw fit to include one of the most exquisitely stunning creatures on the face of the planet, Malin Åkerman, in an unfortunately small and uncredited role as Bennell’s ex’s new girlfriend at the beginning of the film. There’s also a great cameo from Veronica Cartwright, who had a supporting role in the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Several paragraphs ago, I mentioned two things that this film did to restore the tradition of the first two adaptations. If you recall, the first was not wasting time getting down to business with the narrative, the second is the stunning application of metaphor and the resulting social commentary. While one could still view this film’s pod people as a representing subversive politics, what’s really of note to me is what The Invasion seems to say about chemical psychiatry. It addresses, albeit in a clumsy way, the modern idea that medicating a mental disorder is best.
There is also something to be said for the way the movie presents world peace after the titular invasion takes effect full force. The film points out really well that war is an unfortunate part of human nature, and it does not ever reveal if it’s indeed a good thing to have world peace at the cost of our humanity. The film leaves us only half-satisfied, with the main characters happy and human again, but with the world plunged into conflict and political chaos yet again.
I will say that the menace presented in The Invasion is much more violent and shockingly aggressive at times. There are a few creepy jump scares. I like how they took this aggressive angle in the 1993 Body Snatchers, and The Invasion’s pod people have evolved since then into sinister agents that don’t take no for an answer. Whereas the 1956 and 1978 pod people were content with a milder and more persuasive form of infection, these pd people will infect you on the spot or drag you off to do the dirty that way. It’s gut-wrenchingly oppressive at times.
As with the 1993 adaptation, The Invasion isn’t terrible as a standalone film. I was again entertained. It could have been so much more, but it is well-paced, reasonably suspenseful, shocking at times, and fairly compelling, if not a little thin in places. I suppose the disappointment stems from the idea that they took the infection-based horror route but failed to provide the menacing effects and creatures that would indicate it as being anything more than a straight, non-creature-based thriller. It ultimately turns up bland and unremarkable for a science fiction film, but is still relatively far from being a complete waste of time.