The Invasion

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007 Horrorthon Posts / Horrorthon Reviews

2007 (***)

This movie flopped completely about two months ago (it only made $5 million). Which means that almost nobody will ever see it, ever…which is a shame. Am I recommending it? Not as such. Is it “bad”? We’ll get into that below. The important consideration here is that this is the real thing—a Body Snatchers movie in the strict Jack Finney sense—so it’s interesting to evaluate it according to special “Body Snatchers” criteria (and special “remake”/”adaptaion” criteria). I’ll be using this framework for my review rather than a conventional summary/commentary.


They change the premise. This is interesting, because it significantly alters the progression of the story, and, maybe, kills the movie. Traditionally, the “body snatchers” are alien spores that land on Earth to take it over. They are biological parasites in the strict sense: you fall asleep next to one: while you sleep, the spore forms into a pod, which gives birth to a full-sized duplicate of you. The procedure reduces your real, sleeping body to desiccated mulch. Meanwhile the “pod person” of you awakens, puts on your clothes, and goes off to live your life. The new version of you is a hybrid: it has your memories and can convincingly pass for you (in most situations) but it’s not “actually” you; it’s one of the “body snatcher” entities and it’s got an agenda that will involve precise conspiracy with other pod people in order to spread the pods and accomplish the invasion.

Note that already we’ve got some very powerful ideas and some seriously intriguing ontological concepts (which is probably why Finney’s novel has been filmed four times). Setting aside the cultural/political/psychological metaphors (see below), this alien birthing procedure is very interesting in terms of the questions it raises. In all versions, pods say things like “When you wake up, you’ll be one of us,” which is, strictly, not true: the fact is you won’t wake up at all, but the elements of your psyche that get reproduced into the pod person are responsible for the pod person saying things like “It’s not so bad; join us” etc. It’s very strange to think about. What happens when all the humans are gone and the pod people have completely taken over? Do they sexually reproduce? Do they continue wearing clothes, riding motorcycles and behaving like humans, or was that just for our benefit?

The Invasion changes the premise significantly. Now, there are no “pod people” as such. It’s just the original people, having undergone an alien symbiotic transformation (the “pod” cellular material is inside them) so that they’re now “part of it.” There are no pods, no spores, no unformed bodies on slabs, no decaying original copies to be surreptitiously dispensed with. Why make this change? Probably just to come up with “something new” (rather than attempting to “correct” an error in the premise, which is why they changed Spider-Man’s webs for the movies and nobody minded). In the new version, you get infected first (usually by a “pod person” who’s attempting to fake you out by serving you coffee with the alien fluid in it) and now you’ve got to watch out because the next time you sleep, you wake up as one of them..

In other words, all those familiar sequences with big watermelon-looking pod props are gone. Also, the new premise creates “sleeper” pod people (literally) who seem to be fine until they doze off and wake up as aliens. In terms of narrative speed, it’s the same kind of change as “fast zombies,” and from that standpoint it’s effective as hell: this invasion moves very fast with scenes that are extremely fast-paced, neo-Bourne vignettes. The problem is the same as the problem in The Faculty (which is really sort of a comedy): it’s all reversible. Once a certain conclusive thing happens towards the end of the movie, the pod-people effect just…wears off; goes away. This is a major problem and I really think that, if any one thing “kills” the movie, this is it. It’s just no fun without the original versions of everyone rotting away into nothing.


This is the whole point of “body snatcher” movies, because it’s the part that serves the essential horror-story purpose of exaggerating our actual fears. After fifty-three years (Finney’s novel was published in 1955 and the first movie was a year later) it’s fair to say that the “body snatcher” concept is as durable as Zombies (but not quite in the same league as Vampires, Werewolves and straight-up ghosts). The specific type of paranoia being exploited is extremely compelling and powerful, and lends itself to metaphors and dense interpretation (see below).

The first thing you realize about The Invasion is that it’s Right Now, the present day. CNN, cell phones, psycho-tropic drugs, the internet, AIDS, Iraq, 9/11. It’s an enormous difference and it makes for a spellbinding and very promising opening. Watching late 1970s movies always makes one wonder how the same story would occur in today’s world. (“Cell phones would change this story completely” is a thought I have very often while watching older movies.) Here, we get to see it. The aliens’ arrival on Earth is NOT unnoticed as in the other versions. A U.S. Space Shuttle crashes after encountering something in far orbit and it’s immediately all over cable news: BIOHAZARD! for about three days. We see all of this in a fast-paced montage and it’s incredibly good; incredibly REAL.

The early stages of the invasion are superb. Veronica Cartwright shows up to deliver the famous “My husband’s not my husband” line. Placid street-scenes are interrupted by terrified people running through, with no explanation. Strange glances from passersby, the chilling realization that the personnel in charge of containing the “biohazard” are all pods; the attempts to understand bizarre lapses in behavior. All of this, I repeat, is superb. I kept thinking, “This movie’s got to get worse, because if it stays this good, it would have been a monster hit.”


Even better. I’m talking about what happens when the pods have taken over and there are a few human hold-outs trying to escape or blend in. This is where The Invasion really knocks it out of the park. A woman is chased down the street by cops; she is muttering “Don’t sleep, don’t sleep, don’t sleep” as she stumbles and is caught. Various people here and there turn out to be terrified humans trying to blend in (it’s much harder than it looks). Extremely good day-player actors are convincing as hell as Kidman etc. encounter them in the subway or on the street.

The altered premise both improves and weakens these sequences. “Improves” because they’re faster and more intense (to quote a certain director). “Weakens” because, as you may have already figured out, the whole “Day/Night” rhythm of the story is gone. People turn into pods very fast, and they don’t have to have slept very long at all (since it’s a transformation and not a replacement; nobody’s “snatching” anything, which is obviously why the title was changed).


Sucked. I won’t go into detail but I’m sure you can figure out where the story goes just based on my reference to “The Faculty.” Everybody walks out of the theater feeling lousy and the movie makes $5 million. This is seriously one of those flicks where the quarterback fumbles the ball mere yards from the end zone; you know what I mean.


This part is very interesting, because (unlike Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves) pod people have their social commentary “built in.” What I mean is, traditionally the “body snatchers” movies are examined with an eye toward the current society and what they’re saying about it. The Invasion was made by people who respect this tradition, and what they’ve come up with is interesting. The 1950s original is generally understood to be about McCarthyism (although Finney denies it) but it’s also been viewed as a metaphor for creeping Communist sympathy. It’s very difficult for us to understand the mood of that time; I think Clooney’s movie about CBS really does a great job of conveying what that atmosphere was like. The 1970s version is a firmly “anti-establishment” film in the most glorious 1970s sense: Nimoy’s character, the feel-good pop shrink who tries to use slick therapeutic techniques to reconcile an estranged couple whose real problem is that the husband has been REPLACED BY AN ALIEN, is himself a sinister figure in the story.

The new version is ambiguous and intriguing: first, it must be noted that the Invasion ends all Middle-East conflict. We get to see this on CNN, in the movie: American troops vacate Iraq; the Gaza strip is peaceful, etc. Meanwhile, rather than Nimoy, Nicole Kidman’s character herself is a shrink. When Veronica Cartwright appears, panicking because her husband has changed, Kidman gives her a new anti-depressant prescription. Later, Kidman’s pod husband makes the movie’s big “pod person speech” (it was Nimoy in the 1978 version) trying to persuade her that “their new, peaceful world” is no different from the Prozac-fueled reality she wants to create for her patients. I don’t know what this all means; it’s sufficiently thought-provoking that I wish the movie held together well enough to support this kind of speculation.


I hope the failure of this movie doesn’t stop them from making more. It really is one of the better concepts in horror. If you want to see how that concept plays in today’s world, The Invasion is worth watching, just so long as you don’t let the quarterback’s fumble ruin your good time.