Body Snatchers (1993)
I remember watching this when it was released (on VHS) and thinking, "huh, that didn't suck." Literally, that was my thought. Since then I've often thought of revisiting it, but there's just never been that confluence of availability and interest. I found myself thinking about it again this past September, however, when my wife and I finished watching the final season of Burn Notice. (Yes, I'm aware it ended a few years ago - we kinda lost track of it there for a bit.)
Anyway, I was looking at the IMDB listing for the cast, looking to see what they were up to now. Bruce has the upcoming Evil Dead series, Donovan is in season 2 of Fargo, Coby Bell is in The Game and Gabrielle Anwar is... apparently not doing anything at the moment. (Yes, I'm going somewhere with this.) Looking through their various filmographies I saw that Anwar was actually in Body Snatchers, which surprised me - I couldn't think of what character she might have played. I was astonished to learn it was the lead. My mental picture of her is so firmly attached to the Fiona character from Burn Notice that I couldn't immediately reconcile that she was also the curly haired, round-faced character of Marti from Body Snatchers. So the film was once again on my mind when it was recently recommended to me.
I'm not consistently using this section this year, but I thought it worth a mention that the standard definition copy on Amazon streaming is pretty terrible. If there had been a copy of the DVD at my local Bull Moose I would probably have just picked that up.
Body Snatchers is a very loose adaptation of the Jack Finney novel. There seems to have been some time spent in development hell as there are three screenwriters credited (Including Re-Animator's Stuart Gordon) and two credits for Story, including Larry Cohen (of It's Alive, Q and The Stuff). Despite this, the story holds together fairly well and it doesn't feel quite as slapped together as a film with that many cooks usually does.
The movie follows Marti, a teenage girl (Anwar) and her family, which includes her dad Steve, her step-mom Carol, and her younger half-brother Andy. Steve works for the EPA and is traveling to a military base to review their chemical and biological storage - looking for leaks and contamination. Whoo boy, is there contamination. Within the first few minutes Marty is accosted in a gas station bathroom by a young soldier who warns her "they get you when you sleep."
It's an adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so we know what's going to go down in the broad strokes - people will start acting different, no one will listen to their loved ones, and eventually our heroes will go on the run from an alien menace that looks just like the people next door - or even the person next to you in bed. Body Snatchers doesn't disappoint in the general outlines.
The devil is in the details, however, but the film generally pleasantly surprises here. There are some genius points of change. The primary action is set on a military base, for one, instead of a small town where people mostly know each other. The vast majority of people are dressed the same and encouraged to act the same as their neighbor, making it easier for the pod people to hide in plain sight. Having the primary character be a teenage girl in a mixed family is also open to some great possibilities and subtext. A teenager often feels alienated from their family, and a step-mother is already a replacement - especially in a child's view.
Some of this is followed up on - though the military angle gets a bit shorted. Meg Tilly plays the step-mom, Carol, and has some really great moments - particularly after she's changed. "Where are you gonna go?" she says, once she's outed, "Where are you gonna run? Where are you gonna hide? Nowhere - because there's no one like you left." Brrr... creepy!
There are lots of good bits in this film, but much of it is simply workmanlike. You'll have a couple of scenes with great lines and delicious sub-text (there's an exchange between Marti and her father where she says she can't wait until she turns 18 and her father responds with, "what, do you think you won't be my daughter anymore?" It's a good enough line on its own, but in context it becomes a fantastic one.), and it'll be followed by a bland scene with trite dialogue. Beautiful cinematography (the sun seems to be perpetually about to set - on the human race perhaps?) followed by flat, 90's TV lighting. Some of the best bits - people standing outside the houses with garbage bags containing the remains of those who have been replaced, the open mouthed screaming/pointing - have all been lifted wholesale from the excellent 1978 remake.
Once things go bad they go bad FAST and the movie loses most of its creepy moments. The setting becomes a liability in these scenes because the vast majority of changed people we see have had too little time given to flesh them out. They're still 'other,' so the change means less to us. There's some good stuff with the main characters still - and the action is still pretty thrilling - but it's not quite as good as the earlier bits.
The Bottom Line
My final thoughts this time around were "that was pretty good," so a bit of an improvement anyway. In the end it felt a little bit like a setup for a TV series - one I would gladly have watched. Is it in the same league as the previous two versions? No, not really. Still, there are lots of good moments, and it's well worth a watch if you haven't seen it.