Monday, August 20, 2007
In the early 90’s director Abel Ferrara made one of his few excursions into working for a big studio with his BODY SNATCHERS remake. Featuring a cast that included Gabrielle Anwar, Forest Whitaker and Meg Tilly, the film premiered at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. For whatever reason BODY SNATCHERS never got a real release as Warner Bros. let it languish on the shelf until it received a token dumping here in the States the following spring. Despite good reviews—Roger Ebert gave it four stars—and one sequence so powerful it caused a spontaneous wave of applause when I saw it opening weekend in Westwood, the film never got the exposure it deserved. It’s not perfect—at only 87 minutes, the structure resembles two acts and an epilogue, but years after seeing it much of the imagery still remains burned into my brain as the rare studio-produced horror film that even attempts to be genuinely unnerving.
So now the latest remake, this time titled THE INVASION, has had its own protracted post-production period and Warners has released it on over 2,700 screens. Which makes as much sense as anything in Hollywood. The directing credit goes to Oliver Hirschbiegel, but he was replaced late in the game by the Wachowskis who were brought in to supervise rewrites and reshoots directed by V FOR VENDETTA helmer James McTeigue. This doesn’t seem to be as extreme a case as the Paul Schrader/Renny Harlin/EXORCIST boondoggle of a few years back, but whatever the specifics are this final version of the movie is toothless and forgettable.
Edited and paced as if it’s going to be shown to an audience who has to get home early, THE INVASION is never exactly boring, but if there was a decent subtext in the material at any point it seems to have been lost. There is a stab in this direction with a “violence and self-interest makes us human”. Well, I watched plenty of Star Trek so I know that there are plenty of other things that make us human too. There are strong implications throughout from news clips seen that peace is beginning to spring forth throughout the world, including U.S. troops leaving Iraq. Exactly what the movie is saying here is something that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around. There’s also a stab at dealing with people’s dependencies on prescription drugs—Nicole Kidman plays a psychiatrist—but elements like this (at least in what has been released) aren’t half baked so much as they feel like they never got put in the oven.
Every version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is really about its subtext and how it relates to the time it was made in. Whatever subtext that can be found here is completely muddled and confused but it doesn’t matter anyway since the film is much, much more interested is spending a great deal of time spouting off pages of expositional dialogue about the nature of this virus and possible immunities to it. Much of this is spoken by Jeffrey Wright and rarely do you get to hear such a good actor speak this much horseshit dialogue in rapid succession. The pod person element is also completely dropped this time around, replaced by the aliens spreading themselves through projectile vomit, which takes effect when humans fall asleep. I suppose that pods were deemed cheesy and the nature of the vomit is an attempt to “up the stakes” and add an additional ticking clock but make no mistake, it plays as extremely, unbelievably stupid. Ultimately, THE INVASION isn’t about the world we occupy in the year 2007 as much as it’s about repeatedly giving us the specifics of the virus that the aliens are spreading. In other words, it’s about nothing.
Nicole Kidman’s face looks like she’s been smoothed digitally during post-production. I don’t know if this is the case or not but it gives her the most alien look of anyone in the film and I found it difficult to concentrate on anything else during the first twenty minutes. Daniel Craig is wasted. He shares screen time with Jeffrey Wright (James Bond and Felix Leiter reunited), but so what. Veronica Cartwright, a veteran of the 1978 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS has a featured role as one of Kidman’s patients but her big scene is frankly terribly written and sounds like it was ripped off from a speech Jessica Lange has in Scorsese’s CAPE FEAR remake. Maybe because of the urban setting, the film seems to echo the 70s version more than the others, with a re-do of Kevin McCarthy’s cameo from that film (not with McCarthy, but it’s pretty much the same scene) and a few other shots that had a familiar tinge to them.
I think THE INVASION is more bad than terrible—there are a few elements that stick out, like an unexplained shot of a teenage girl running sobbing down a sidewalk. But for the most part it’s a big nothing. At various points the film makes an attempt at additional flashiness, like opening the film with a sequence that occurs deep into the running time and another point where in the middle of a scene we flash-forward to what’s about to happen. These gimmicks serve no real purpose except to try to make it seem like there’s more going on than there actually is. If the film had ever figured out what it was, this sort of nonsense wouldn’t have been necessary.