Body Snatchers (1993)

Half-formed
★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1993
Director: 
Abel Ferrera
Starring: 
Gabrielle Anwar, Meg Tilly, Billy Wirth, Forest Whitaker
The Setup: 
90s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers set on an army base.
Discussion: 

Having just rewatched the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Don Siegel, I thought I should re-watch this one and finish my evaluation of them all. After this was one more remake, the disastrous The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. This is one of those movies that is infinitely remakable--I think there should be one every ten years--given its commentary on social conformity and the loss of individual identity. In fact, right now, with the pressure to make oneself into a public-friendly persona, with few to no flaws, and present that ideal self on Facebook, makes for a perfect time for a remake. But alas I wouldn't look for that any time soon, and the big disappointment of The Invasion was the way it studiously tried to get away from all that tedious social criticism and just be a nice alien invasion film. Anyway, in the 90s we had this one, and it does still have ideas, they're just seriously underbaked.

Okay so we open in space with the title, then slowly see each bright red letter in the title systematically be replaced by a dull, gray letter. We see that this has a story by B-movie star Larry Cohen (and others) and is directed by Abel Fererra, of Bad Luitenant, Ms. 45, and The Driller Killer. So we obviously have a director who is ready to be in our face with the controversial social issues. We then join Gabrielle Anwar as Marti, sullen teen who is moving with her family to an Army base, where her father, who works for the EPA, will be investigating the storage of toxic waste. There is some unfortunate voice-over along the lines of "if we knew what we were in for, we would have run," which adds nothing and shows how little the movie already has going on. Meg Tilly is on hand as the stepmother, whom we are to understand Marti, who is from the first marriage, doesn't like.

They stop at a gas station, and when Marti uses the bathroom, she is attacked by an Army guy who tells her "They get you when you sleep!" The guy has vanished when they go look for him (spooky!) and the family drives on, the voice-over continues. At last they arrive at their unit, which is pretty crappy, and Marti is sullen. One of the things the movie has going for it is that it doesn't sugarcoat Marti being a real bitter brat. Then Marti makes a friend in blonde Madonna-wannabe Jen, who has an alcoholic mother at home in a stupor. Meanwhile dad has met R. Lee Ermey as the uncooperative Army base leader, and gone to collect water samples. There he meets Forest Whitaker as the staff psychologist, who asks him if anything in the water could start to make people have delusions and lose their identities. In here one thing you might notice is that the movie boasts a very controlled use of light, particularly amber sunset light. Too bad it ultimately comes to nothing.

Okay, now various spooks. The younger brother, Andy, is freaked out that all the other kids in his kindergarten class all make the same painting. We see people being taken away in the night, and people taking creepy garbage bags of what we know are human remains out to menacing garbage trucks in the morning. Marti continues her friendship with Jen and meets hunky helicopter pilot Tim. Then one day she sees the guy who attacked her in the bathroom, now fully with the program. He has been... ASSIMILATED.

SPOILERS > > >
At a certain point we show the swamp behind the base, where a number of Army guys are engaged in pulling pods out of the water and placing them in trucks. So the pods are purely the result of toxic waste now, is that it? They're not aliens? Looks so for now. Then little Andy comes home just in time to see Tilly crumple into a pile of dead leaves, and his replacement mother, pointedly nude, emerge menacingly from the closet. Of course no one believes him that she's not his mother. Then we have more people taking out their old bodies in the garbage, and then a sudden, unrelated toxic waste accident that really kind of has nothing to do with anything.

From there, things go from 9 to 100 in double-quick time. The movie just kind of assumes that you have seen previous versions and don't need much explanation. So Marti is in the bath when she dozes off. There's a pod in the ceiling above her, and it starts sending down tendrils that creep up into her nose and mouth using our favorite low-budget technique; footage played backwards. Marti wakes just in time for her half-formed replacement to fall onto her from the ceiling, where a nice new touch is that the half-formed replacement now tries to kill you. She escapes, and goes to wake dad, who is also under a spaghetti-plate's worth of tendrils. They gather up and prepare to run, causing Tilly to deliver the film's big line: "Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere. Because there's no one like you left." To me, it only kind of works, mostly because we're a little amazed that Marti and Dad went from thinking something was a tiny bit amiss to fully convinced of alien replacement in just a few seconds. They go outside and the whole base is going insane, people running everywhere. It all just kind of explodes, rather than ramping up, to an extent that it doesn't fully work. You'll notice that they kept the alien scream from the Kaufman version. You'll also have noticed that, lovely person as she is, Meg Tilly is not Donald Sutherland.

So it's madness on the base! Dad is trying to contact the outside world when Ermey and company come in and make a speech about how it's the race that's important, not the individual. But it's undermined by your confusion: wait, so they ARE aliens? I thought they were from the toxic waste. Maybe the aliens thrive in the toxic waste? I don't think we'll ever know, because I'm not sure the filmmakers know. Anyway, within a few minutes Marti has gunned down her own father, which it seems she should have been a little more troubled by, but by now the movie is falling apart rapidly.

So chase here, chase there, Marti is caught but rescued mid-transformation by Tim. Chase, chase, until they make it to the helicopter. Then little brother Andy appears out of nowhere and they take him on, only to have him start attacking once in mid-air. Marti chucks the little sprog out the helicopter, with him doing the alien scream on his way down. It's a bit ludicrous as it is, but it's fully undone by an unfortunate glitch in the special effects which reveals it as the effects work of your local cable access station.

So they fly off into the dawn, Marti giving us more pointless voiceover, then a repeat of mom's "Where ya gonna run?" speech, slowed down to sound extra menacing. They may as well have had the voiceover say "Alrighty, we're all out of ideas, so let's just cut this off." And it ends.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was better than I recall it from the first time--when I thought it was a worthless piece of shit--so that now I can see it was professionally-shot and features careful lighting and is just decently made. The problem is that the ideas are all only half-baked, and clearly at a certain point they had no idea where to go next and tried desperately to piece something together. It all just flies apart at a certain point, and you sense the filmmakers just trying finish it and get out. So, still a piece of shit, maybe just not an abolutely worthless one. See? I like to lead with my generosity of spirit.

So that's about it. It's disappointingly lame. It starts out promising, then just flies apart into a giant mess. Unless you have some project where you are going to realize some financial gain from seeing all iterations of this story, I would just skip it. Skip The Invasion too, holy God.

Should you watch it: 

There's no real reason to.