One of the strengths of the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that it plays equally well as a story of creeping communist subversion or of McCarthyite American conformism. This small-scale, effective variation on Jack Finney’s original idea is pitched to an America which is just as split (indeed, even more obviously so) as the 1950s. Those who embrace a virus-borne change (‘drink the kool-aid’) and surrender to smiling homogeneity might be a parody of the right-wing idea of liberalism – and resisters here have guns on top of their wardrobe like true NRA members (they’re skeet-shooters). But there’s also critique of freefloating paranoia, willingness to ignore scientific fact for short-term convenience, and just plain orneriness in this neighbourhood (which is probably in the vicinity of the Maple Street the Monsters were due on in that Twilight Zone episode) which evokes the respectable right’s sharp turn into roaring insanity. All versions of the Body Snatchers theme benefit from this kind of complexity – yes, it’s obviously an allegory, but of what?
The set-up here is that an alien (?), sentient virus spread by kissing is rapidly transforming all of humanity into calm, rational, friendly-to-the-point-of-aggression, stand-around-ominously zombies … but they still retain enough of their original personalities to be individualised, and to deter the hold-outs from just shooting them (this is a rare recent American film that’s as much about how difficult it might be to murder your zombified neighbours as how much fun that would be).
We’re in an unconventional suburban household – Mac (Jason Alan Smith) lives with his health worker wife Jane (Carlee Avers), who literally gets the wrong idea when her boss tries to kiss her at work, and daughter Kim (Clare Foley – young Poison Ivy on Gotham) from a previous relationship, with Kim’s custody shared with her bearded, grumpy trucker uncle Kurt (Doug Tompos). These people have strong bonds but don’t always get along. When Mac and Jane tie up their neighbour Bill (Tony Todd), who represents the changed, at gunpoint, it takes a lot of talk to get Kurt to see that this is necessary rather than insane, and it still isn’t clearcut that the individualist hold-outs aren’t making the situation work by their floundering attempts at resistance.
Director Michael Mongillo, who co-wrote with Matt Giannini, made the obsessive ghost story Diane – also with Jason Alan Smith, Carlee Avers and Doug Tompos – and goes for a similarly disturbing, ambiguous approach here. But this also has a thrumm of suspense as the changed assemble on the lawn, preparing for a home invasion at dawn in persuasion doesn’t work, and the combustible, insupportable situation in the house frays into violence.