With a slight variation on the usual story, an environmentalist is investigating toxic waste on an army base and it is left to his daughter to save the day from the evil aliens who victimise humans by ridding them of their 'essence' and taking over their bodies.
Addressing the universal personal and political fear that individuals or society can easily lose the essentials of humanity and become soulless "pods", the body snatching concept is one of the great pop myths. Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers was famously filmed by Don Siegel in 1956 as Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and again by Phil Kaufman in 1978. On the strength of the earlier versions and this 1993 reworking, it seems the scary story is a property which could usefully be redone every 15 years as long as films are made.
Sticking less to Finney's plot than the earlier films, Abel Ferrara's take on the story is set on an army base. Rather than a medical-scientific investigator hero, the protagonist is Marty (Anwar), teenage daughter of an Environment Protection Agency boffin who is investigating the storage of toxic materials in an army installation. The military setting, which has already imposed an uncomfortable degree of conformity on characters, is a bold stroke which increases the political resonance and allows for gung ho action with helicopters and missiles, including a marvellously ambiguous and hollow triumph at the finale.
On the assumption that the audience already knows the premise, Body Snatchers doesn't explain the alien invasion, it simply shows it with gloopily effective special effects. Ferrara, in a rare medium-budget excursion, shows he can make a smooth-looking, well paced film, while his acute ear for character tensions deftly captures the untidy human emotions that the pods live without. The writing and acting are way above average for a sci-fi quickie: note how a "truth" game between Anwar and soldier hero Billy Wirth sets up resonances that pay off throughout the film.
Ferrera successfully breathes life into an old franchise, with only a slight small change in the narrative but making the aliens significantly more frightening. Anwar is equally intuitive and sassy enough to make her a likeable and believable heroine and although the effects aren't up to much, there are still plenty of scary moments.