By Kenny Hedges
There’s no inopportune time to adapt Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s allegorical possibilities are endless, and since the 50s, it’s been used to mirror the Red scare (though director Don Seigel denies this), suburbia, the Me-generation and the military industrial complex. It’s the last of those that most critics considered at the time of it’s release to be the weakest. That was, course, until The Invasion.
In 1993, critics and audiences alike were lukewarm at best toward Abel Ferrera’s adaptation simply titled Body Snatchers. Despite initial positive reviews after it debuted at Cannes and a four star praise from Roger Ebert, its detractors considered it soulless and bland. It was the furthest departure from the source material. Set in a military base in Alabama, alienated teen Marti (Gabrielle Anwar) travels with her father (Terry Kinney), step-mother (Meg Tilly) and younger brother to monitor the environmental impact of stored chemicals.
Immediately, Marti is warned off by a raving lunatic soldier. “They get you when you sleep,” he explains. But his warnings aren’t heeded until it’s too late, and inevitably the soldiers are taken over by pod-like aliens.
Originally, screenwriting team Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli’s script was set outside the military base, which would have added a more interesting conflict between civillian and soldier. This was later streamlined, and led to the one of the major arguments against the film. Why set it on a military base, where everyone is supposed to act the same anyway? But that’s oversimplification.
Rather, Body Snatchers offers a realistic and effective take on a family already on the verge of collapse. Marti and her step-mother are distant, Tilly already technically an alien before her transformation. As for the military conard, one could argue it’s an accurate portrayal of the frightening impact rigid code and conformity can have on the human spirit.
As a result, the horror works. While not as infused with paranoia as 1978’s hair-raising San Francisco-set nightmare, it’s also not loaded with fake-out jump scare or other traps such films can fall in. It even breaks a few taboos, non-chalantly killing off a child.
Where the film really suffers is in the performances. Marti’s love interest (Billy Wirth) couldn’t be more bland if he were an alien and the soundtrack feels like a temp track they simply never replaced. There’s also evidence of some studio tampering. Marti’s first person narration, which bookends the film, may as well be the voice of a Warner Bros. executive fearing any obscurity would be a risk.
Until the troubled history of The Invasion led to a mess of an adaptation, Body Snatchers was considered the weakest. In a sense, it is. But that doesn’t make it bad.