Human beings in general are under the microscope in The Invasion, the fourth film adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers. Why release a version in 2007 after it’s already been done in 1956, 1978, and 1993? Iraq, of course. And Darfur. And even Hurricane Katrina. This generation’s Invasion, penned by first-timers David Kajganich and directed by German-born Oliver Hirschbiegel (with some help, reportedly, from The Matrix’s Andy and Larry Wachowski), doesn’t just hint at the allegory inherent in its story about an alien life-form that takes over the human race and creates a world without emotion. On one side are the converted, who naturally want to convert. On the other are the paranoid, friends and family to the outsiders who, though they can’t quite put a finger on how, are pretty sure that Uncle Joe and little Jimmy just ain’t right.
In 1956, Communism was the thing to be feared, yet the makers of the first film only briefly mention “what’s going on in the world” to prompt viewers who wanted more than a mystery to read between the pods. Here, you will get the message. Current news constantly pours out of televisions, radios, newspapers, and—in case you can’t read headlines—characters’ mouths. The idea: Would we be better off as a society of robots, living without war and crime because we no longer feel? The answer is an altogether too positive one, at least for an otherwise dark and satisfying thriller.
Nicole Kidman stars as Carol Bennell, a D.C. psychiatrist who hears the infamous “My [insert loved one here] is no longer my [insert loved one here]” line from one of her patients (Veronica Cartwright, who co-starred in the 1978 movie and gives a terrific monologue here). Carol then begins noticing oddities, too—a kid who gets attacked by a dog yet isn’t frightened, the people spread out neatly at a bus stop, the sudden appearance of her ex-husband, who now insists on spending time with their son, Oliver (Jackson Bond). Even though she spends her days personally quelling her clients with drugs—another message for you—she’s not so hot on the idea of it occurring outside of her control. With the help of her boyfriend, Ben (Daniel Craig), Carol gets a sample of some goo she found analyzed and discovers that it’s a gene-mutating life-form that alters its hosts when they sleep. By this time, Washington is full of replicants—well, more than usual.
Despite its political overobviousness, The Invasion is a taut adaptation of Finney’s well-worn story. The explanation of where the body snatchers (though the term isn’t used) came from and why they’re a danger is more comprehensible, both in actual explanation and in feeling. These zombies aren’t vacant but have menace in their eyes and are quick to gather and zone in on creatures that aren’t one of them. Whereas previous fighters against the invasion seemed to be merely living among the sleep-deprived, Carol and her small group seem in constant, claustrophobic danger of vultures out for their lives. The fear is still largely psychological, with a layer of tension added when Carol is separated from her son. But there’s also an injection of action, albeit nowhere near the overload you might expect from a modern-day, Wachowski-enhanced blockbuster. (Their touch is subtle but recognizable, particularly during a darkly lit and balletically blocked car chase.) The fun ends, though, with a narrative twist that’s blown up into, essentially, a giant cop-out that’s completely out of character with previous versions. In the end, The Invasion is the opposite of what it should be: all emotion and no guts.