ICYMI: Body Snatchers
Last week I spoke about 2014’s The Babadook and the way it effectively establishes mood and uses isolation to enhance paranoia. Writing that piece made me think about another overlooked horror film that utilizes the same motifs. 1993’s Body Snatchers is the 3rd cinematic adaptation of Jack Finney’s classic sci-fi novel, following Don Siegel’s 1954 film and Phillip Kaufman’s 1978 version – both titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This time around indie auteur Abel Ferrara, best known for King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, gives us a modern version that is just as eerie as its predecessors but with a Gothic feel largely thanks to its setting on a remote Alabama military base.
This version revolves around a teenage girl named Marti, played by Gabrielle Anwar, who is moving with her family which consists of her scientist father (Terry Kinney), stepmother (Meg Tilly), and younger stepbrother (Reilly Murphy). Marti and the audience get an initial warning when a gas station stop reveals a runaway soldier who proclaims, “They’re out there!” Subsequently, they arrive on the base and Marti becomes quick friends with an Army brat (Christine Elise) and catches the eye of a young chopper pilot (Billy Wirth). Meanwhile, Marti’s father is tasked with checking on some possible water contamination and it’s easy to see where that will lead.
The base personnel includes Forrest Whittaker as a concerned officer and none other than R. Lee Ermey as the base commander. We watch as the creatures quickly take over the base, replacing people as they sleep via pods and their nostril penetrating tendrils. The use of the Army base is an effective setting and perfect cover for the aliens: what better place to fit in than an environment based on rigid codes and procedure? Additionally, Marti’s already hostile feelings towards her stepmother go next level when she is replaced. Meg Tilly is especially creepy when she is found out and subtly states, “Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide?”
The last third of the film involves Marti and her new boyfriend trying to navigate the base, staying hidden among the “replacements” by showing no emotion. But then comes the inevitable moment when Marti breaks protocol while searching for her stepbrother. The look on Gabrielle Anwar’s face in that moment is surprisingly touching.
I can see why this film fell through the cracks. I’m sure it was seen as standard early 90’s horror fare and also lacked any perceived star power, despite the very good performances from the entire cast. But I think Abel Ferrara’s film is very smart as well as visually striking and finely creepy. And at 87 minutes, it does not overstay its welcome.