Friday, July 18, 2014

Invasion of the Body Snatchers Review

While brushing up on some classics, I finally got around to watching the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  This eerie landmark piece of cinema had a huge cultural impact and is still viewed today as a political allegory of its time. I knew of its historical significance and was eager to see it for myself. Past experience of 1950's cinematography caused me to brace myself for something delightfully cheesy, but this was a solid film that has withstood the test of time.
Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns to his small town practice to find several of his patients are all suffering the same paranoid delusion that their friends or relatives are impostors. He is initially skeptical, especially when the alleged doppelgangers are able to answer detailed questions about their lives. But Bennell is eventually persuaded that something odd has happened and determines to find out what is causing this phenomenon. Joined by his old girlfriend, Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), they discover alien plant pods that eventually produce a duplicate replacement of one of the town's human citizenry. As the pods reach full development, their "seed" assimilates the physical characteristics, memories, and personalities of the humans but are devoid of emotion. Together Dr. Bennell and Becky race against the growing invasion to warn others of the impending threat.
Having aliens from space that look and act just like everyone else was innovative during an era where movie monsters were giant bugs, ghouls, and bloodsucking vampires. Instead of having an obvious enemy to fear and fight, the horror was obfuscated aliens which were indistinguishable from our friends and family. Having shape shifting enemies that look and act just like us is common in modern movies and television shows. Invasion of the Body Snatchers might not have been the first ones to do it, but it is certainly portrayed in the most impactful way early on in movie history. We have this movie to thank for all later aliens hiding in plain sight as humans.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers hit theaters during the height of McCarthyism when everyone feared unknown communist spies and a soviet takeover of the United States. Earlier movies depicted aliens representing the threat of other countries invading, but this movie depicted a subtler invasion of political ideals; anyone could be a communist, even your next door neighbor. Many people see the emotionless doppelgangers as an allegory for the loss of personal autonomy in the communist systems. Others saw in the story a commentary on the dangers facing America for turning a blind eye to the tyranny of  McCarthyism, or of a bland conformity in post Eisenhower-era America. It's applicable no matter how it is interpreted, and it truly is depicted a harrowing way. There's a scene towards the end of the movie where Dr. Bennell is franticly trying to get people to recognize the impending threat and pleading for them to take any kind of action against it. He yells, "Look, you fools, you're in danger! Can't you see?! They're after you! They're after all of us! Our wives, our children, everyone! THEY'RE HERE, ALREADY! YOU'RE NEXT!" As he screams the last lines he looks directly into the camera at the audience, trying to warn us, too. Even now, this is a chilling scene.
 The script was very well written; it didn't pander to the audience or spend unnecessary amounts of time with the characters wondering what is happening or what could be done. For a 1950's film, this is pretty fast paced. The plot unfolds gradually and logically, the plot points are clear and understandable, the characters are well written. Even Becky wasn't depicted as a panicky woman who is only present to scream at things that don't involve housework; she's not all that helpful, but she's a more progressive female protagonist than most were in that time period. The camera work was also impressive; it used some excellent angles  to capture action. There was frequently something to focus on in the foreground while action was happening in the background. The use of lighting created a eerie sense of foreboding that permeated most scenes. This movie is superior visually to most movies of its day and also in terms of the story.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a sci-fi classic that has spawned many rip-offs trying to capitalize on its success, as well as three remakes. The script is good, the camera work is above average, and the themes are fascinating. The fear and paranoia this movie exudes is remarkable and still gave me the chills today. It's no wonder this movie has withstood the test of time. I highly recommend seeing Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  It's currently (as of writing this) on NetFlix Instant Play. I liked this enough to want my own copy. I'm also curious to see how the remakes stand up to the original.

The remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers include the 1978 version of the same name which stars Donald Sutherland, 1993's Body Snatchers, and 2007's The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Have you seen any these four Body Snatcher movies? Do you have a favorite? Comment below and tell me why!

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