Sunday, 04 June 2023

Snatched again

Mercy, how we love to tell ourselves some outside force can take us over and make us do horrid things.

The latest version of The Devil Made Me Do It is “The Invasion,” the fourth film to be based on Jack Finney's 1955 novel “The Body Snatchers.” It opens today.

Thoughtful critics say it's a good one to skip, sloppy and boring, and with a tacked-on upbeat ending that negates its message.

Critics and academics are still arguing about just exactly what Finney and director Don Siegel had in mind in the first film, in which aliens emerge from pods and take over the people of a small California town. Was it a warning against communists among us? Or a warning against Joe McCarthy's terror campaign?

Finney himself kept insisting it was just an entertainment, but who listens to the writer? It was vastly entertaining, a little bit scary, and had one lovely moment when a character looked into the camera and yelled "They're here already! You're next!"

By 1978, when the second version appeared, movies and audiences were more sophisticated. The story moved to Mill Valley and San Francisco, audiences familiar with the first version loved director Philip Kaufman's references to the original. The New Yorker's Pauline Kael said "it may be the best film of its kind ever made."

Abel Ferrara's 1993 version didn't fare so well. Where the first two kept it homey with the local police as the prime enablers of the pod people, this one moved it to an Army base with a toxic spill.

They all share the same premise, fear of losing your humanity and originality, becoming an emotional zombie or watching your loved ones do so. And of being taken over by hyper-powerful forces -- like the enforcers and the health industry -- which really, truly, do not have the individual's best interests at heart but just want to create a clean and tidy stress-free world without dissent.

It's a rational fear,and one that Finney explored more than once in his writing. His 1977 novel “The Night People” exudes a gentle and humorous paranoia about the potential horrors of creeping suburbia and the joys of harmless non—conformity.

All the horror movies are so cathartic. We scream, they end, we come out and the shark/giant squid/alien critter hasn't eaten us and everything's fine. And it's a lot cheaper, takes less time and isn't nearly as much hard work as examining the monster that might live in our own interior closet. They're not such a bad short-term substitute for psychotherapy.

So far as I can see, there's no need to see “The Invasion.” We've seen it before, we're living it now. Or still.

Anyway, I've never thought Nicole Kidman is quite human. There's the eerily translucent skin, the eternally teenage body, and as Roger Ebert said of the pod people in the '93 version, “They don't look quite right around the eyes.”



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