Body Snatchers (1994)

3 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Body Snatchers” is not necessarily a full adaptation of the famous novel of the same name, written by Jack Finney. In some ways, it’s a sequel to the 1978 film adaptation “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (which itself was a remake of the first film adaptation from 1956). That’s one way you could look at this 1994 version, in that we’re secluded to one particular setting that could show that the events in the original 1978 film are just continuing with the characters in this one.

For the few who don’t know who (or what) these “body snatchers” are, they’re pod-like alien beings that come to invade Earth by cloning humans and taking their place (and destroying the originals). The scary thing is that anyone on Earth could be one of these aliens. It could be your mother, father, sibling, lover, friend(s), mailman—anybody. There is one giveaway—they may look normal, but what keeps these duplicates indistinguishable from normal people is their complete lack of emotion.

“Body Snatchers” takes place on a military base, which is probably the perfect place for these “body snatchers” to hide. For one thing, they have easy access to weapons and armored vehicles. And also, the soldiers there are already practically emotionless to begin with. Who would suspect these stone-faced people to be pod people if you didn’t already think they sort of were? That’s a clever move that this movie makes.

Teenager Marti (Gabrielle Anwar) has moved to the base with her family. Her father (Terry Kinney) is an E.P.A. consultant brought along to study these drums of toxic chemicals put on the base. Marti, like most teenagers, is bummed about the move, but more unnerved by a visit to a gas station on the way, where she is grabbed by a runaway soldier (Forest Whitaker) who screams hysterically, “They’re out there!”

He’s right—the body snatchers are taking over the base, unloading pods in a nearby swamp. The soldier warns “they get you when you sleep,” meaning that the pods unleash tentacles that trace around people’s bodies and snake into noses, ears, and open mouths so that they drain their life forces. Then the pods are grown into perfect clones of those people, who have been literally drained of their lives in the process.

Marti’s stepmother (Meg Tilly) is the first of the family to fall victim to the body snatchers, and the only one who knows is her five-year-old half-brother Andy (Reilly Murphy) who, in an effectively disturbing scene, has witnessed her mother’s lifeless body crumble before his eyes and the new duplicate walk out of the closet, naked. Andy can’t get Marti or Dad to believe that this person isn’t Mommy. But then things get really crazy as the stepmother, along with just about everyone else on the base, goes after the three of them.

Now to be honest, I wasn’t really enjoying the first half of “Body Snatchers” very much. Gabrielle Anwar, who was luminous as Al Pacino’s dance partner in “Scent of a Woman,” comes off as sort of bland in the lead role of Marti. And Terry Kinney, as her father, is worse. One would suspect that he already is a body snatcher just by looking at him, even though he isn’t supposed to be. A lot of moments seem rushed and others seem painfully obligatory. And also, Meg Tilly doesn’t have much of a character to show enough dimensions for us to know the difference between her human form and her alien form. But to be fair, there are a couple genuinely creepy moments that kept me interested in seeing if the movie could top them. One is a scene featuring Andy in a daycare center, as every other kid has the same drawing (of tentacles spreading) except him. And another is the scene I just mentioned, in which Andy sees a newly-formed alien in the form of his mother.

Then about forty-five minutes into the movie, “Body Snatchers” really comes alive with a tense, suspenseful second half in which Marti, her father, Andy, and her helicopter pilot boyfriend (Billy Wirth) are on the run from the pod people. The structure is very clever, the horror continues with further suspense, we feel the characters’ fear, and the visuals are stunning.

Frightening moments include—shots of the pod people giving chase in packs (it’s always frightening when groups of people go after one small group); a scene in which the boyfriend finds Marti in a shed full of pods ready to take over (her body double is already formed as the boyfriend must save the real Marti); and a sequence involving an attack on a helicopter.

There are many other unnerving moments, mainly those including the few human characters left having to pass themselves off as a pod person in order to blend in and attempt an escape from the base. For example, when the young pilot boyfriend is confronted by duplicates of his friends, he forces himself not to show an emotion. But then there’s a line that would get any teenage boy angry and you have to wonder, can he keep pulling this off so he’ll still convince them? This scene is carried over in a scene where Marti is looking for Andy—if she asks the wrong person to help her, she gives herself away. Who can be trusted?

This is the strength of “Body Snatchers”—the situations are well-established so that the terror generates convincingly.

I may have complained about Meg Tilly, but how can you not love the scene where she widens her eyes and lets it clear to Kinney, in a disturbingly calm manner, that there’s nowhere to run or hide. Tilly owns that moment, as well as a following point when she points her finger at the escaping family and screams hysterically—by the way, that’s the signal for the body snatchers to give chase.

Even if the characters aren’t well-developed and some parts of the story come off as pretty obvious, “Body Snatchers,” mainly in the second half, works as a horror film. It’s suspenseful, has a few shocking surprises, and keeps you interested in the story’s outcome. That’s good enough for me to recommend “Body Snatchers.”

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