|Invasion of the Body Snatchers|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 01 July 1998|
The third screen version of Jack Finney’s thought-provoking and creepy novel, ‘Body Snatchers’ is dark and unsettling, retaining the claustrophobic terror of the two earlier editions while adding a few original eerie touches. The film also arguably represents the most readily accessible work from director Abel Ferrara.
This time out, the protagonist is teenager Marty Malone (Gabrielle Anwar), discontentedly accompanying her E.P.A. scientist father Steve (Terry Kinney), stepmother Carol (Meg Tilly) and little brother Andy to a U.S. Army base. Steve is supposed to ascertain whether the dangerous chemicals stored at the base have polluted the terrain. In fact, the military compound has been contaminated by something worse than leaking carcinogens. People begin by being afraid to sleep and, once they recover from the fear, they’ve changed.
Director Ferrara sets a tone of grim fatalism from the very beginning. As this is the third cinematic go-round for the material, the script by Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli and Nicholas St. John wisely doesn’t try too hard to be mysterious, but concentrates instead on being ominous - the filmmakers here fortunately know the difference between the two. A military base lends itself especially well to the who’s-human-and-who’s-faking-it game at the core of the plot, since the deadpan attitude required of normal soldiers resembles the flat-eyed purposeful behavior of the pod people. A bit more humor might heighten the stakes - Marty’s outlook is fairly bleak even before her survival is threatened - but the film is full of vividly chilling moments. The special makeup effects by Tom Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman are satisfyingly disquieting and graphic.
Chapter 8 has a particularly novel bit of menace that is subtle yet visually striking, while Chapters 17 and 18 have some particularly impressive and alarming special effects. Sonically, the DVD is sterling. Chapter 2 has a great aural whammy that wakes you up and Chapter 3 has some lovely subtle segues from a moody ballad on the soundtrack to dialogue to some generic power rock. Chapter 19 has an amplified scream that should test the upper register of speaker systems everywhere. Chapter 27 contributes some pyrotechnics that register powerfully on screen and on the soundtrack. Joe Delia’s musical score tips its hat to Bernard Herrmann, but the borrowings are logical and effective.
The latest version of ‘Body Snatchers’ has a streamlined feel to it - it’s less social parable and more straightforward horror thriller - but it maintains a high dread level throughout, has terrific performances (watch for Forest Whitaker in a supporting role) and, at 87 minutes, it’s tight as can be.