Director: Philip Kaufman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright
Taking old b-movies from the 1950s and re-imagining them as more serious horror films is a trend that started in the late 70s and has continued to now. From John Carpenter’s The Thing to Chuck Russell’s The Blob, there are varying levels of success. Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn’t the best remake there is, but it’s interesting and has some great characters, and that makes it worth watching.
The film starts with Matthew (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now), a health inspector, investigating a restaurant with great detail. He clearly loves his job and takes great pride in his standards. Matthew and a group of unlikely friends try to survive the body swapping invaders.
Screenwriter Walter Duch Richter took the b-movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and took a more grounded and sophisticated approach to the idea, with deeper characters and dynamics that reflect the late 1970s. Through Elizabeth’s (Brooke Adams, The Dead Zone) and Geoffrey’s (Art Hindle, The Brood) relationship, we get a modern approach of the family and one of the underlying themes. As Dr. Kidner (Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek) mentions the reason why Elizabeth believes her partner has been changed, isn’t because he has, but because she wants to believe that he has, to give an excuse to run away. The paranoia that modern and fast paced lives are corroding the traditional family dynamic is one of the fears that the film plays with. In a similar way that the original film played on the fear of communism being something that looks like anyone.
The first half of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is all about characters. Each one is different and works well in the dynamic between them all. They are interesting enough without the body snatching. Elizabeth and Geoffrey are clearly not suited for each other, but stay together out of convenience. Elizabeth is clearly better suited for Matthew, who is never really seen as more than a friend. It’s refreshing, even nearly 45 years after this film was released, that their relationship isn’t built upon an affair and a longing but a true and deep friendship. That makes moments in the second half so much more horrific, you’ve already spent a long time with the characters and get to know them.
Another way this improves upon the original is the effects. There are moments in this film that are almost a predecessor to the practical gore effects from the 1980s horror films. The moment when Matthew is sleeping, and a pod nearby is trying to replicate him looks incredible. It’s realistic and adds to the horror. The famous dog moment, later in the film looks great (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it), it’s also one of the funniest moments in the film.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers could be a generic and forgettable film, but with some great and fully realised characters, brought to life by strong performances (When doesn’t Donald Sutherland give a great performance, even his portrayal as the watcher in the Buffy film is one of the best bits), it becomes so much more than that. It does loss steam in the later half and could be trimmed down, but the first half is so engaging that it makes up for it. The final shot is also iconic for a reason and a brilliant moment.