Film

Assimilate


Assimilate (2019)
★ / ★★★★

Take any version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and dilute the creativity, energy, surprises about ten to twenty times and you get close to the crushing blandness of “Assimilate,” a horrible, unconvincing sci-fi horror knockoff by writer-director John Murlowski (Steven Palmer Peterson also serving as co-writer). With a smorgasbord of mainstream and independent movies pushing a similar premise right at the writers’ fingertips, it is astounding that just about every decision is uninspired, predictable, and boring. I felt sorry for the young performers on-screen because they are actually quite watchable. They deserve better. And we do, too.

The story opens with Zach (Joel Courtney) and Randy (Calum Worthy) starting yet another video project that they hope would become a success since their last foray was a complete failure. They live in middle-of-nowhere Multon, Missouri and their goal is to show the residents—should they actually choose to watch the enthusiastic duo’s videos—who they really are. Their approach is to attach small cameras onto their shirt collars and capture raw, unedited moments. But something strange is afoot. People are beginning to claim that their loved ones have been replaced by near-perfect copies somehow. These copies stand out because they fail to show emotions. Zach and Randy decide to investigate.

A critical element that the writers seem to forget is the fact that body invasion movies are not just about regular people running all over town to avoid becoming copies themselves. The sub-genre is a tool by which to exorcise fears or concerns of a specific time period and so the movie becomes an allegory. By taking this familiar premise as is, it doesn’t work because the project is reduced to a regurgitation of what came before… but devoid of meaning or context.

There is, I think, a way to circumvent this—and it is not easy. The screenplay must function on such a high level that every scenario must have a twist on the familiar. This way, we are forced to stand on our toes and constantly evaluate situations opposite of what we expect. There must be suspense, foreplay, irony, perhaps even a savage sense of humor prior to pummeling us with truly horrific imagery. This route can offer entertainment value. But the movie is not at all ambitious. Too many times we are forced to endure the usual motions of a character looking sad after the discovery that his or her family members have fallen victims to the extraterrestrial invaders.

It opens with some promise. It is established early on that Multon is a small town where religion is of dire importance. If this weren’t the case, the pastor (Terry Dale Parks) would not be such a respected figure of authority. It is a shame that the material fails to expand upon the idea that religion can be utilized as a weapon to brainwash a population. (Hence why the copies act like zombies.) Maybe this angle is rendered less sharp in order to appeal to more people? But that does not make sense because “Body Snatchers” films are risks; they are meant to function as social commentary.

Despite its lack of thrills and scares, the young actors share good chemistry. I wanted to know more about Zach and Randy’s failed video projects because Courtney and Worthy exhibit an effortless goodness and a sense of camaraderie when playing off each other. There is also a cute—but predictable and at times syrupy—romantic subplot concerning Zach and a childhood friend named Kayla (Andi Matichak). As the movie crawls toward the tired finale, I wished for the three leads to find work in the future that would actually make use of their talents.

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