Body Snatchers (1993)

Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers has proved a remarkably robust novel. Each generation of film-makers seems to see its own concerns reflected in Finney’s tale of alien takeover; the 1956 film was basically all about the cold war, the 1978 adaptation poked fun at narcissism and pseudo-spirituality, and this 1993 version is… a teen movie. It doesn’t sound massively promising on paper, but in fact director Abel Ferrara (best known for the notorious Driller Killer slasher flick) uses the original plot to take a subtle and sober look at the crushing loneliness and isolation of adolescence. Gabrielle Anwar gives a nicely understated performance as Marty Malone, a teenage girl who reluctantly spends her life on the road with her father, who inspects military bases for their chemical safety, her step-mother and her younger step-brother. She already feels frozen out of her dad’s new family, but when one airbase become infected by alien pods which turn humans into emotionless ‘pod people’, she quickly realises that she has very few people she can turn to…

In truth, none of the characters in the film are massively interesting, but Marty’s unwhingeing sense of hopelessness at the start of the film means that she’s at least sympathetic. Interestingly, Ferrara makes the best possible use out of the clipped, strictly regimented military base setting; in a situation where everyone is trained to keep their emotions under wraps at all times, it becomes quite difficult to tell who’s an alien duplicate and who isn’t, which means Marty’s attempts to escape the base are pretty compelling with some quite surprising twists. Initially, I found Billy Wirth’s performance as Tim (ostensibly the dashing pilot who Marty falls for) to be gratingly wooden, but his lack of expression is eventually his saving grace and does lead to some tension as we try and work out if he’s to be trusted or not. By contrast, the change in Marty’s family when they are duplicated is so marked that it becomes screamingly obvious that they are aliens – thankfully, these transitions are not dwelled upon too much, although Carol’s fate is drawn out for far longer than is dramatically satisfying.

Body Snatchers does sag a bit towards the end, and suffers from an overly linear plot, but at 87 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The limited sets and occasionally plastic-y special effects (especially the human ‘husks’) mean it feels rather more like a TV movie than a cinematic blockbuster, and in all fairness it’s probably a rather minor entry into the history of cinema; however, Ferrara’s sensitive updating of the novel’s themes means the film is definitely worth a look. Whether 2006′s Invasion remakes – starring Nicole Kidman – achieves the same feat remains to be seen.