Film Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
In 1956, Don Siegel released the black and white science fiction film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based off the novel The Body Snatchers, written by Jack Finney. Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Jean Willes, Ralph Dumke, Virginia Chritine, Tom Fadden, Kenneth Patterson, Guy Way, Eileen Stevens, Everett Glass, Dabbs Greer, and Sam Peckinpah, the film grossed $3 million at the box office. The film has also left quite the legacy, chosen as #9 for the American Film Institute’s Top Ten Science Fiction films and was included in the organization’s top 100 thrills list as well as Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
When Dr. Miles Bennell finds that the patients in his small California town of Santa Mira are accusing their family and friends of being impostors, but unable to explain the suspicions, he and his colleague Dan Kaufman initially believe it to be mass hysteria. However, they soon find out they were right, finding that the townspeople have been replaced by alien duplicates grown from pods.
An incredibly well-done science fiction film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers succeeds mainly because of its simplicity which furthers the suspense all throughout the film. Nowhere are there any sort of effects or tricks shown to clue the audience in to knowing anything about the surrounding situation or showing anything about the alien life form responsible for the pods. Rather, all it shows is everything from Miles’ perspective, what he knows the audience knows and where he’s confused and suspicious of something being out of place, so is the audience. But that’s the genius of making a suspenseful science fiction film a film noir: knowing nothing beyond what the main character knows keeps the viewer on edge to continue wondering and guessing what’s going to happen next and be legitimately surprised. The scene where Miles and Becky are walking down the road pretending to be pod people in order to escape is intense because it’s known that they’ll be outed at any moment. But that moment isn’t known until it happens. There’s also the fear the viewer feels alongside Miles when Becky falls asleep and transforms, knowing that the latter is the last person left unaffected, as it gives the audience that base fear of being completely alone.
There’s also what the film seems like as it looks to be a warning against the spread of communism in post-war America. The pod people are the villains of the film and after their takeover, they work autonomously and claim that life’s frustrations have vanished because life is no longer complex. However, this also means that emotions and individuality are eliminated as well. It’s what was warned in the post-war paranoia: that since everyone is the same, there’s no strife or conflict with everyone working in perfect harmony but it’s a double-edged sword because at the same time, the townspeople completely lost who they were. Again, the way the story is presented really makes the penultimate scene terrifying, where he’s yelling at all the motorists on the highway that they’re next one where he’s warning that these pod people, in the place of communism, are spreading their way, but they won’t listen. It also leads to a well-done breaking of the fourth wall where he’s yelling at the audience that they’re next and should be guarded against the threat.
However, the above could all be grasping at straws and looking for meanings in films where there aren’t any. Because it seems that Siegel and McCarthy both continued to insist that they just wanted to make a science fiction movie instead of a social commentary.
However, the film does fall flat during the final scene after Miles gets done explaining the whole story. The ending feels like it was tacked on simply to give it a happier ending where the pod people and their takeover will be met with some resistance from the military. It also has an incredibly rushed feeling. Where the film should have ended was Miles screaming his head off at all the motorists on the highway, finishing where he turns to the audience to yell that they’re next. It would have been a depressing, hopeless and dark ending, but it would have felt like a more natural way to close out as well as more fitting to the hopeless tone of the film
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