Body Snatchers (1993) — Pod people enlist in the Army

“Where you gonna go, where you gonna run, where you gonna hide? Nowhere… ’cause there’s no one like you left.”

Justin’s rating: What if I’m the pod person and the real me has been on vacation for the last two decades? I’d be totally jealous.

Justin’s review: When I was a teen, I had a handful of mid-1990s scifi/horror flicks that I loved for all of their cheesiness. This short list included 1995’s Screamers, 1995’s In The Mouth of Madness, and 1993’s Body Snatchers — all movies with body replacement elements. Maybe it was the fact that I worked in a video rental store at the time and was very much in tune with what was being released, but I saw all of these movies far more than the average person, or even the somewhat deranged and hypoglycemic person. In fact, I always kind of thought that Body Snatchers was the best of this long-running and very odd series.

So if you never saw the original 1956 film or the much more well-known 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the idea here is that Earth is under a mostly quiet alien invasion where people are quietly cloned and then replaced by their “pod person” counterpart. This raises a level of paranoia — anyone could be an alien in disguise! — where only a complete lack of emotion gives the secret away.

Also, when pod people identify a snitching human, they tend to make this iconic face, point, and scream.

Body Snatchers doesn’t waste much time before establishing the high stakes that are at play in this setting. Marti (Gabrielle Anwar), on a road trip with her EPA father, is accosted at a gas station bathroom by a crazy person who tells her that “they get you while you sleep.” This sets an ominous note for a visit to a nearby military base which is most definitely under the influence of otherworldly beings.

You know that’s something really off about this place, but it’s not easily apparent. A screaming man is taken from his home by the MP in the middle of the night. A kid realizes he’s the only different one in his school class and tries to run away. And the base command seems determined to cover something up.

Before too long, a pod comes for Marti while she’s snoozing in a bath. You’d think that any heroine in a horror film would avoid napping in baths after A Nightmare on Elm Street and Slither, because nothing good happens in tubs. In this case, a half-baked alien clone of her falls through the ceiling, and Marti goes on the run as her family’s been replaced by the imposters.

I will warn you that there’s some absolutely unnecessary narration that threatens to steal the tension and make this a little too 1990s for anyone’s taste. You kind of have to persevere past it — it’s not too much, nor too bad, but it is an early detractor. Fortunately, the camera work and above-average cinematography do a great job nurturing a culture of creepiness and insecurity. Setting this at a military installation is extra-inspired, as the authority structure and heightened security make the situation all the more perilous for those stuck inside of it.

We’re given glimpses — a short scene here, a brief monologue there — of the aliens’ perspective and plan, and I thought it was intriguing. The way they stand and stare at the world with this detached (but not utterly) perspective makes you downright curious what they’re thinking. The film suggests, but does not outright say, that the invasion is rather widespread at this point, and so there’s a sense of futility of anyone trying to run, fight, or expose the truth.

I think you’d also be surprised at the acting star power that is packed into this B-movie treat. Forest Whitaker, Billy Worth, Meg Tilly, and R. Lee Emrey are always welcome in any movie I see, and I feel they give some cinema cred to Body Snatchers by just showing up in it.

With less than 90 minutes of runtime, Body Snatchers doesn’t give itself the luxury of the slow burn. It has to hustle to make this setting claustrophobic and unsettling. Figures in silhouette, shadows, up close shots all throw the audience off, and dang if it’s not effective. Having an alien threat that’s almost laid-back in its confidence that it’ll absorb and replace the whole human race is the sort of thing that’ll haunt your mind for days to come.

Didja notice?

  • I love this opening score!
  • Oh, we really don’t need opening narration. Please, no narration.
  • Shots of the soldiers just standing there ends up being far more frightening when you don’t know if they’re aliens or not.
  • That kindergarten class scene with the fingerpainting is so incredibly freaky
  • “They all had the same pictures. They tried to make me go to sleep.”
  • A good date includes a game of “I Never” in a fog-dense woods
  • Man, you feel so bad for the kid in this movie
  • The mom’s speech, the following scream, and the ensuing “all hell breaks loose” scene is absolutely amazing

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