Bleak, unsettling and relentlessly paranoid, Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes the premise of the source material, both film and short story, and gives it a gloomy, post-Watergate spin. The end result is a paean to all the things that make us human, and why we should never let those things go.
Donald Sutherland plays Matthew Bennell, a San Francisco public health inspector, who has his curiosity piqued when a colleague, Elizabeth Driscoll tells him that her husband has changed, almost overnight into a cold, distant man. Bennell's psychiatrist friend David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) tells him that several of his patients are starting to think that their husbands or wives are not who they seem to be. Just when Bennell is thinking he may have caught up in some kind of mass hysteria - two of his friends, Jack and Nancy Bellicec, find a partly formed corpse, part of an alien plot to replace the world’s population with emotionless clones.
Right from the start, director Phillip Kaufman draws us into an off-kilter world of mistrust and suspicion, mixing shots of normal life and slightly odd things and occurrences (a telephone cord, a priest on a swing, a man playing banjo) and seemingly imbuing them all with meaning – a classic trait of the paranoid. Cleverly, by moving the setting of the story from a small town to a big city, the idea of people behaving in a cold uncaring manner seems plausible and easier to dismiss as the consequences of “city living”.
However, despite the nationwide and global scale of the invaders plans, the script never loses sight of the human drama and the plight of the individual. Kaufman wisely chooses to balance the weirdness with characterisation, and he is helped by a first rate cast. Sutherland, eschewing any movie star trappings or mannerisms, is believable and sympathetic as the rational everyman, trying to make sense of the increasingly bewildering and unsettling situations.
The score it is the only cinematic effort by jazz musician (and psychiatrist) Denny Zeitlin is eclectic, switching between ominous, sometimes discordant, orchestral cues, dark rumbling synth lines, and quieter, more reflective small jazz band pieces,
The special effects work is excellent, gooey and unpleasant, predating Cronenberg’s films The Brood and The Fly, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, linking the film to the sub-genre of Body horror.
One thing that this remake does not have that the original did is a clear political subtext. Instead the focus is more on emotions, feelings, the things that make us human, something that makes the final iconic scene as devastating as it is disturbing