A master class in moody paranoia, Invasion is basically a realized representation of the psychological disorder, Capgras Syndrome, the irrational belief that a familiar person or place has been replaced with an exact duplicate.
Tiny parasitic flowers begin dotting the San Francisco cityscape. Department of Public Health employee and amateur horticulturalist Elizabeth brings one of the unusual tiny pods home.
Soon some locals including her boyfriend Geoffrey are behaving strangely, performing rote, automaton behaviors while displaying easily agitated, behavior usually associated with dementia.
Elizabeth takes a day off work and follows him around for the day and spots Geoffrey marching mechanically, meeting strange people and handing off mysterious packages.
Colleague Matthew Bennell (the incredible Donald Sutherland, whose role could go to Jesse Eisenberg if this were to be remade again) is concerned. Bennell suggests that Elizabeth chat with his friend Dr. Kibner (Leonard Nimoy), a kind of Wayne Dyer-type, a psychiatrist and pop self help guru who’s hosting a book launch. Mid-event, Elizabeth overhears a random hysterical attendee who charges the doc claiming to be her husband is not her husband but some kind of replicant.
A jealous writer attending the launch, Jack, (the terrific Jeff Goldblum) becomes sucked into the mystery when he and his wife Nancy, who co-own a spa, find a gooey pod person on the premises of their business.
Suspicion once again falls on the strange, and as we see later, throbbing, pulsating flowers with bursting stamens.
It’s through Jack and his wife we get some of the most spirited exchanges as to the flowers’ provenance:
Jack: What are you talking about? A space flower?
Nancy: Well why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?
Jack: I’ve NEVER expected metal ships.
The striking physical similarity between Bennell and the pod person puts the public servant front and center, helping his three friends to get to the bottom of the doppelganger mystery.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the 1956 version) is often seen as having McCarthyism subtext, paranoid finger-pointing literally reproduced in the meme-image, above.
However, that film and its remake could just as easily be seen the opposite way as well: a cautionary tale of creeping statism and the abnegation of individualism found in places like China or Cuba (the source material was, after all, by way of libertarian sci fi author Jack Finney).
It could be read any number of ways. Is it an addiction parable? An indictment of psychiatry? Are the pod people religious zealots looking for converts?
Few horror films, other than the very finest virus or zombie films, cast authority figures in such a negative light.
Either way you slice it, Invasion of the Body Snatchers offers much more than a typical zombie contagion movie: the enemy here is just like us, rather than the shuffling, frothing-at-the-mouth, and after a time, interchangeable undead. And it’s much scarier as a result.
****1/2 (out of 5)