Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Screening on Film
Directed by Philip Kaufman.
With Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum.
US, 1978, 35mm, color, 115 min.
Print source: HFA

One of those exceptional remakes of a classic film that manages to equal and perhaps surpass the strengths of its predecessor, this earthier variant hones its existential horror with a more subtle, startling naturalism. Philip Kaufman’s is set at the end of a socially and politically fraught 1970s in San Francisco where “flower people” still flourish, only a different kind. The film taps into the fear of conformity, submission to authority, corporatization and a deep distrust of a government that is no longer a protector but party to the terror. He also includes a hint of feminist angst in the form of Brooke Adams’ Elizabeth, who is the first to notice something is not right with either the strange flowers or her suddenly soulless boyfriend, yet she is initially accused—by Leonard Nimoy’s pop psychologist—of just being unhappy in her relationship. Eventually, a small group of radicals—including Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright’s quirky duo, and Elizabeth’s coworker/confidant Ben, an empathetic Donald Sutherland—seem the only ones aware that everyone is turning into uncanny shells of their former selves. Adams and Sutherland lend such a believable warmth and tenderness to Elizabeth and Ben’s evolving relationship that the shock and heartache of this insidious takeover is all the more terrifying and relatable. With creeping visual details, an eerily minimal soundtrack, sophisticated special effects, and ominous, disorienting camera angles, the film unnervingly envisions this painfully imaginable, always relevant, homogenizing plague for which all the usual remedies no longer exist.

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