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October 12, 2016

Body Snatchers

by Franz Patrick


Body Snatchers (1993)
★ / ★★★★

A chemist (Terry Kinney) from the Environmental Protection Agency is sent to a military base for a month to test possible toxicity of various sites. His daughter, Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), is less than excited about the assignment because she did not expect him to get remarried after her mother’s passing. Though she and Carol (Meg Tilly) get along just fine, the new wife is a constant reminder of her mom’s replacement.

Speaking of replacement, something strange is brewing in the base. Major Collins (Forest Whitaker) admits to Steve that he has been receiving a surge of patients with extreme delusional fixations like being deathly afraid of their family members because they are convinced somehow that the people they are living with are not really their loved ones.

Inspired by Jack Finney’s novel, “Body Snatchers,” directed by Abel Ferrara, is an exercise in, ironically, identity crisis. It is very frustrating to sit through because although it is science fiction on the surface with horror and paranoid thriller elements, it also deals with teen angst—a most toxic combination. Because the suspense-thriller and teen drama realms depend on vastly different moods and tones, they picture fails to propel forward. The little mystique it conjures up is aspirated out just as quickly.

The characters are severely malnourished in terms of development. Although the first scene suggests that Marti is a lead character of deep thought and intelligence, the scenes that come afterwards show that she is really nothing special, just another teenager who is neither a bad girl nor a good girl—just somewhere in-between, boring, waiting for outside forces to compel her to react. Anwar has the physical beauty and grace to become a compelling watch but the screenplay by Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and Nicholas St. John makes her character as bland as possible. Why?

One does not get a real impression that the story is really taking place at a military base. It looks more like a set with soldiers sitting on vehicles, jogging, looking stern. The interiors of the house Marti and her family are staying in offer nothing eye-catching in terms of design or geometry. Pale lighting is used to give the impression that the house has had prior residents but upon looking more closely, change the lightbulbs and everything would look artificial.

Because these crucial elements—characterization and a real sense of place—do not fall into place, it is difficult to buy into the reality of individuals being replaced by emotionless doubles. Instead of engaging us in a natural flow, coupled with the chemist’s analytical mind—which the writers prove too lazy to place any significance toward, just about everything comes off silly, very often forced.

Reduced into its final minutes, just about everyone is running around either trying to catch someone or a person trying not to get caught. It is all very standard and unimpressive. Where is the sense of wonder? Where are the interesting questions? Where is the palpable sense of danger? Don Siegel’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and Philip Kaufman’s remake of the same name are effective because they work literally and as metaphors.

This one is not about ideas. In fact, it is not about anything. As you saw, I was able to summarize the plot but there is nothing substantial to hold onto. About less than halfway through, I wished that my double were watching this brain cell-killing film instead while I enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air.

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