The third screen version of Jack Finney’s “The Body Snatchers” is an exciting thriller that compares favorably with Don Siegel’s classic 1956 original. WB can expect a strong response from audiences and critics alike, with potential repeat business from older teens. Film is competing in the Cannes Film Festival, an unusual slot for a horror pic.
Producer Robert Solo effectively remade the picture in 1978 with Philip Kaufman directing, but in director Abel Ferrara, whose pix have been urban studies of paranoia, he found the perfect match to the material.
Five credited scripters have retained the basics, which make Finney’s 1954 story always timely: Aliens are invading Earth in the form of giant seed pods that replicate human beings while they sleep in order to replace them.
The primal fear of loss of identity is the story’s central theme, enhanced by the eternal war of nonconformist individuals (repping the human race) vs. a collective social mass of emotionless pod people.
Improvements that make the third edition distinctive include a teenage heroine as the central protoganist and setting the film on an Alabama military base.
Gabrielle Anwar, Al Pacino’s striking tango partner in “Scent of a Woman,” toplines and narrates in a star-building performance as Marty Malone, who has moved to an Army base with her biologist dad (Terry Kinney), stepmom (Meg Tilly) and younger brother (Reilly Murphy).
While her dad goes about his Environmental Protection Agency job of inspecting the local streams and warehouses full of stored toxic chemicals, Anwar is befriended by the punkette daughter (Christine Elise) of the base commander, Gen. Platt (R. Lee Ermey).
Unsettling events occur early: Anwar is accosted in a gas station restroom by a man who warns her cryptically: “They get you when you sleep.”
Soldiers arrive at the Malones’ home on base and deliver several boxes, and Anwar is disturbed to see them place some in her parents’ bedroom closet. Even the man from the gas station pops up, but as an emotionless soldier who doesn’t remember meeting Anwar.
There’s a vivid scene of Tilly’s body decomposing in bed, cueing a replacement for Tilly to emerge frighteningly from the closet.
Anwar and her brother deduce that Tilly is the enemy and flee, with Tilly letting out a wailing banshee shriek that alerts nearly the whole base to pursue the kids in the movie’s central setpiece. Teaming up with their dad and, later, Anwar’s soldier boyfriend (Billy Wirth), they elude the baddies, but Anwar soon discovers she can’t trust anyone.
Anwar is a strong heroine who provides maximum identification for the target audience. Kinney is on the money as the ambiguous father, while Wirth exudes sex appeal as Anwar’s b.f. and savior. Tilly is chilling.
Ermey, the unforgettable drill sergeant of “Full Metal Jacket,” is perfect casting as the leader of the pod people. Elise delivers a natural, precocious performance.
As he did in “The Crying Game,” Forest Whitaker makes every screen moment count as the insomniac symbol of the indomitable human spirit.
A chilling sense of dread is developed throughout the film’s first half, aided by subliminal sound effects and Anthony Redman’s superb editing.
Bojan Bazelli’s often backlit, monochrome widescreen silhouette shots are eerie. Other tech credits enhance the apprehension.
Makeup effects eschew explicit gore in favor of spotlighting frightening tendrils coming from the seed pods and snaking around the victims.
Ferrara keeps everything under tight control and wisely injects momentary black humor to relieve the tension. The script’s most interesting inversion stresses that mankind’s ability to hate and seek revenge constitutes a unique survival trait.