Body Snatchers

Year: 1994

Production: Warner Bros.

Director: Abel Ferrara

Starring: Gabrielle Anwar, Terry Kinney, Meg Tilly, Billy Wirth, Forrest Whitaker, R. Lee Ermey, Christine Elise

Screenwriter: Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, Nicholas St. John

From a story by Raymond Cistheri and Larry Cohen, based on The Body Snatchers (1955) by Jack Finney

87 minutes; Color

Addressing the universal personal and political fear that individuals or society can easily lose the essentials of humanity and become soulless "pods", the body snatchers concept is one of the great pop myths of the post-war world. Jack Finney's 1955 novel, filmed by Don Siegel and Philip Kaufman as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), is a property that can usefully be remade every 15 years. This third version, developed at various times by Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon, is less faithful to Finney's plot than the earlier films but still elaborates on his basic theme.

Body Snathers is set on an army base which already imposes an uncomfortable degree of conformity on characters, as regimentation finally becomes a nightmarish melange of chanting platoons and sweeping searchlights. This bold stroke increases political resonance and allows for gung-ho action with helicopters and missiles, including a marvellously ambiguous and hollow triumph at the finale. Rather than a medical-scientific investigator hero, the protagonist is Anwar, teenage daughter of an Environment Protection Agency boffin (Kinney) who is investigating the storage of toxic materials in an army installation.

At the outset, the heroine's family is screamingly dysfunctional, emphasizing the calming, soothing influence of the pod people, who replace alcoholics with teetotallers and threaten to turn Anwar from a sulky, intolerant teen into an ideal daughter. In an amazingly creepy scene, Anwar's little brother is revealed as the only real human in his infants' class when all the other children produce identical finger-paintings. On the fair assumption that the audience already knows the premise, Body Snatchers does not explain the alien invasion but simply shows it with gloppily effective effects as the pod sprout tendrils which swarm disgustingly around sleeping victims' faces as the replacement person is formed. Post-production studio tamperinng is suggested by the sudden segue at the mid-way point from oblique hints to non-stop action but Ferrara, in a rare medium budget excursion, shows he can make a smooth-looking, perfectly-paced film as well as he can handle spiky, zero-expense items like Bad Lieutenant (1992). His acute ear for character tensions deftly captures the untidy human emotions that the pods live without, as Anwar loses her messy family and friends paying off with a helicopter defenestration (a dodgy process shot, sadly) that violates the deepest taboos of the American cinema as she is forced to jettison her brother.

The writing and acting are remarkable for mid-budget sf: a "truth" game between Anwar and soldier Wirth, apparently an irrelevant aside, sets up resonances that pay off throughout the film, as Wirth's tendency to hide his feelings enables him to pass among the pods and Anwar is forced to learn how to shoot "people". Tilly, remarkable as an alternately calm and screeching pod queen, delivers a keynote speech for the unease of the 1990s: "Where are you going to go, where are you going to run, where are you going to hide? Nowhere, because there's no one like you left."

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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