Following a space shuttle crash, people start acting oddly. Psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Kidman) and doctor Ben Driscoll (Craig) figure out that alien spores are turning the population into lobotomised zombies as soon as they go to sleep.
When Jack Finney wrote seminal sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers in 1955, he could never have anticipated what an enduring, all-purpose metaphor its central premise would become. It wasn’t even, in truth, a particularly original one - Philip K. Dick beat him to the punch by a year with his short story The Father Thing, and the concept of psychotic delusions that turn out to be real can be found throughout literature. Nevertheless, it was Finney’s take that has become immortal, thanks less to his prowess as a writer and more to the fortuitous timing of the 1956 Don Siegel adaptation and the then-prevailing climate of Reds-under-the-bed paranoia.
In short, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers is regarded as the gold standard of metaphorical sci-fi. Whether that metaphor was ever intended is debatable - as is the question of whether it stands for McCarthy’s attempt to cow the American public or for the subversive forces of international Communism. In fact, it’s possible that the ’56 version of Body Snatchers is so intriguingly of its era because the satirical slant was not purposely embedded. Which, skirting the excellent 1978 Phil Kaufman and Abel Ferrera’s half-decent 1993 version, brings us to The Invasion and its most serious, but by no means only, flaw.
Although not the disaster that US critics and dismal box office might suggest, The Invasion, which stars Nicole Kidman as a psychiatrist and single mother (who, for no good reason, describes herself as a “postmodern feminist”) and Daniel Craig as her doctor chum (who, because the writers forgot to give him a personality, doesn’t describe himself as anything) is not only deeply unsatisfying but also, in its desperation to win points for au courant-ness, philosophically troubling. And, frankly, offensive. Try this on for size: the upshot of a mysterious alien virus that turns everyone into soulless pod people is that it spells the end for all the despicably bad stuff that we do to each other. In other words, slaughter in Iraq and genocide in the Sudan are part of what makes us human. Ergo, pacifists and liberals equal soulless pod people. That can’t, surely, have been the message the filmmakers had in mind, but that it can be - and inevitably is - interpreted that way is an indication of The Invasion’s sloppiness.
Nominally directed by Downfall’s Olivier Hirschbiegel with, reportedly, extensive re-shoots by James McTeigue, the film is by turns ponderously slow (ten minutes of Kidman trying not to fall asleep does not constitute high-octane action) and inexplicably frantic. At one point someone, without apparent motive, pelts Kidman’s car with a Molotov cocktail which, for the simple reason that it looks kinda cool, keeps burning at fireball intensity until the car slams into a concrete pillar. There’s a couple of effectively chilling moments - Kidman’s Night Of The Living Dead-style doorstep encounter with a pod-peep, for instance - but it’s mostly pedestrian, predictable and riven with continuity errors, while the CG ’toons of the virus ricocheting around a bloodstream are laughable.
If not a train-wreck, this is certainly more than a fender-bender. In a world overflowing with targets for a satirical pasting, we needed something a lot sharper than this.