Saturday 20 August 2016

Movie Review: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

A science fiction horror drama, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers builds to a fine level of tension in the story of aliens duplicating and replacing humans through organic, plant-generated pods.

Alien spores from a distant but dying planet travel to Earth, latch onto plants, mix with water, and morph into beautiful small flowers. In San Francisco, health department worker Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) takes one of the flowers home. A few days later she notices a dramatic change in the behaviour of her boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle), who has become a lot more aloof and robotic. Elizabeth confides in her co-worker and lover Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland), who suggests that she has a talk with celebrated psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy).

Similar reports of strange personality changes sweep through the city. Elizabeth, Matthew, and their friends Jack and Nancy (Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright) start to piece together what is going on: when humans sleep the flowers grow into large pods that create emotionless duplicates and destroy the original. With the snatchers taking over the city, Matthew and his friends have to fight off sleep and find a way to survive.

A remake of the 1956 original and directed by Philip Kaufman, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers expertly plays with a sense of creeping dread. The film contains its fair share of disgusting moments and effective shocks, but Kaufman's intention is to create cerebral rather than physical scares, and he succeeds admirably.

Relying on a sense of hopelessness in the face of an unseen threat rather than outright horror, the story unleashes an organic, messy and determined foe on an unsuspecting city. With no spaceships or weapons of any kind, the invaders simply destroy humanity from within, using the disguise of an innocent, exotic-looking flower. The film works as a metaphor for the proliferation of pollution and toxins destroying all that is good and transforming people into uncaring beings. It is equally effective as a cautionary tale about the speed with which pandemics can spread, and the potentially woefully inadequate levels of preparation to combat an unexpected threat.

The first two thirds of the film establish the characters and introduce the warning signs that all is not well. Kaufman is patient, hinting at what might be and allowing Elizabeth and Matthew plenty of time to round into real and flawed people. The final third does occasionally struggle to find new plot elements, and there are some prolonged chase segments that could have been trimmed. Excellent nighttime cinematography by Michael Chapman, combined with chilling a music score by Denny Zeitlin featuring some blood-curdling screams, help to maintain momentum.

Brooke Adams gives the brightest performance, and the unfolding horror is mostly seen through her character's eyes. Donald Sutherland is a bit more sleepy but swings into action in the second half of the film. Jeff Goldblum, in one of his earlier prominent roles, and Veronica Cartwright provide good support. Leonard Nimoy's casting is a clever touch, as his Dr. Kibner tries to exude calm and promote an intellectual rather than panicked reaction.

There are no heroes or epic showdowns in Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and the film leaves plenty of open questions, contributing to a sense of pessimism. The intention of the aliens is to survive on a new planet; the fate of the suddenly hapless human species is a less important detail.

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