People are turning into pods. They lack feeling, nuance, individuality. They speak and act more or less alike, and they have no tolerance for anyone who dares to be different. If you hear that description and think, ”Gee, what else is new?” then you’re right on the wavelength of the so-horrible-it’s-funny nightmare — or, at least, what ought to be the nightmare — of The Invasion, the fourth adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 sci-fi thriller novel, The Body Snatchers. Here, once again, people are being turned into alien drones — and it’s hard to tell.
In movies, the fun of this material (apart, of course, from the alien seed pods that look like giant cucumbers) has always been its metaphorical-sociological zap. The great, spooky Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) took off from the Commie witch hunts of the ’50s, and also from the general buttoned-down ”normality” of the Eisenhower era. The richly disturbing 1978 remake caught that moment when the counterculture morphed, with sinister invisibility, into the yuppie culture. (Abel Ferrara’s 1994 version was barely released.)
And The Invasion? The first sign of how low the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, has set the bar comes when Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman), a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist, meets with one of her patients, a woman who claims her husband ”is not my husband.” The shrink’s solution is to change the patient’s medication. You’d think that a movie that was out to update the concept of creepy conformity might take an opportunity to tweak our society’s use of psychotropic drugs to shape personality; instead, it’s all for it. You’d also hope it might have fun with how our behavior is manipulated by technology, or fashion, or corporate style, or reality TV, or God knows what else.
But no. The Invasion is the first body-snatchers movie that has zero in the way of social-satirical consciousness. The movie isn’t terrible; it’s just low-rent and reductive. It’s so eager to cut to the formulaic, heebie-jeebies showdown between the blank-voiced ”pod people” and the survivors who are desperate to escape them that it scarcely bothers to establish the humanity that’s being saved. This is just a glorified zombie movie: 28 Days Later with monsters — they even spread the virus by vomiting! — that look like you and me.
Nicole Kidman, with her doll-like features and slightly glassy passivity, may not be the best choice to play the emotional savior of the human race. Daniel Craig, as her physician suitor, gets little chance to show his unruly charisma. At a dinner party, Carol is bamboozled by a Russian who sounds so nuts it takes a moment to realize he’s voicing the film’s ”philosophy”: that people are supposed to be violent, not peaceful. The movie has a bit of fun with this idea, in the news reports that flash on TV as the aliens take over. Suddenly, all the world’s conflicts — Iraq, Darfur — are solved, as if the villains had taken their cue from John Lennon’s ”Imagine.” But we’re never shown the danger of this all-tranquillity-all-the-time idea on a personal level. The Invasion gets you rooting for the aliens to be defeated, but the film’s soul feels as if it had already been snatched. B-