‘The Invasion’ is the fourth and most recent screen adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1954 novel ‘The Body Snatchers’ (retitled ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ for its 1956 cinema release, ostensibly to distance itself from the Karloff / Lugosi vehicle ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1945)). It is the loosest interpretation of Finney’s story and the flimsiest. After a troubled production history during which producer Joel Silver took the movie out of director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s hands – complaining the ‘Downfall’ director had made “a little art film” – and threw a lot of money at the (uncredited) Wachowski Brothers and James McTeigue to recut, reshoot and shoe-horn in a bunch of spectacularly misjudged action sequences, it languished for a long time on the studio shelves before being quietly and apologetically ushered out the side door in a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it theatrical release. The critics weren’t kind. The audiences stayed home. The movie, which ultimately cost $65m to make, grossed a meagre $40m worldwide.

Nicole Kidman stars as psychologist Dr. Carol Bennell who begins to suspect something sinister is happening to the people of Washington DC. With the help of her floppy-fringed best-friend-who’d-like-to-be-something-more Daniel Craig, she races against time to prevent a very nasty alien virus from taking over the world and turning people into emotionless facsimiles of themselves when they go to sleep. If this wasn’t jeopardy enough, she also has to rescue her insipidly cute little son from the clutches of ex-husband Jeremy Northam, who we find out very early on is one of the bad guys.

It is clear to see where Hirschbiegel’s film ends (pretty much at the halfway mark) and Joel Silver’s tacked-on lunacy begins. Hirschbiegel, working from a script by first-time screenwriter David Kajganich, was obviously aiming for the same slow-burn paranoia that made the preceding three films (and Jack Finney’s original novel) so effective and it’s a shame his producers lost their nerve because the first fifty minutes of ‘The Invasion’ establishes the tension quite neatly, even though the way the alien spawn makes it to Earth is pretty ludicrous.

In fact, the form the alien menace takes is the first of this reimagining’s many missteps – inexplicably breaking away from the tried-and-tested conventions of all the earlier versions (the notion that our alien doppelgangers are hatched from within human-sized pods as we sleep) – the film turns the alien invasion into a kind of avian flu metaphor: at first the virus is spread by contact with outer-space wreckage and then, much more graphically, by the alien carriers vomiting into the faces of their victims as if they’re spewing up extraterrestrial furballs. It’s a queasy notion, and the scene where Northam pins a struggling Kidman to the ground and spews into her mouth also introduces a nasty oral rape motif, but an ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ story should have pods in it and this film suffers from their absence.

‘The Invasion’ is also the only film of the quartet to attempt an inappropriately feel-good ending which is almost a Walt Disney-take on how HG Wells wiped out the Martians in ‘The War of the Worlds’. But keep watching because that isn’t the worst of it. And if you think that’s bad, be grateful we have been saved from what audiences allegedly had to sit through during the film’s initial disastrous test screenings when John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was tagged on to create an even more sugary-sweet coda.

So now that I’ve torn ‘The Invasion’ apart, here is why I love it:

Nicole Kidman is perfect. Although her performance isn’t quite good enough to break her duck of ‘appearing in films that should have never happened in the first place’ (ie. ‘Bewitched’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’) she portrays a cool, sexy and understated heroine and earns extra points for making some very bad dialogue sound, well, not entirely terrible. She also spends the second half of the film running along flickery strip-lit corridors and through subway tunnels, shooting aliens, gulping down handfuls of amphetamines to stop herself from going to sleep, and admirably resisting the urge to strangle the annoying moppet playing her son.

There are a couple of notably unsettling sequences at the front of the film: the aforementioned ‘Kidman spewed on by Jeremy Northam’ moment and, before that, a brief scene involving a late-night census taker who really won’t take no for an answer.

The transitional make-up effects, as the human victims’ desiccate before turning into their alien replicas, are gooily effective too.

Also on the plus side there’s a neat homage to the stand-out ‘They’re coming! They’re here!’ sequence featured in the original movie (which itself was revisited in Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake) and the small scene when Kidman and brat trot along a Georgetown sidewalk while small children wearing Halloween costumes scurry past is an unashamed rip-off of a stroll Ellen Burstyn took along the same streets in a little-known 1973 film the title of which escapes me.

As ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ goes, Kaufman’s 1978 version is, by far, the best take on the story. It’s a masterpiece. And Don Siegel’s 1956 original and Abel Ferrara’s 1993 (re)remake are also both much better films than ‘The Invasion’, but I enjoy ‘The Invasion’ much more than the ‘56 and ‘93 entries because of its absolute refusal to accept how ridiculous it is. Nicole Kidman is great, Daniel Craig – fresh from ‘Casino Royale’ (2006) – quite obviously doesn’t know what he signed up for, and there was without doubt a decent film in here if Joel Silver and his accomplices hadn’t stomped all over it with the finesse of a ballet-dancing hippo in a concrete tutu. ‘The Invasion’ is not only a bewildering missed opportunity, it is an astounding miscalculation.

To sum up, there’s a moment in the film when Kidman, pretending to be an emotionless alien, loses herself amongst a crowd and finds herself forced to watch an uninfected man and woman join hands on a rooftop before leaping to their deaths. If she flinches the aliens will know she’s just faking being one of them so Kidman, despite the horror, can’t turn away.

Watch ‘The Invasion’ and you’ll know exactly what that feels like.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white