Teenage Marti Malone (Gabrielle Anwar) remembers how this all started. She was being brought to the military base where her scientist father (Terry Kinney) was going to spend the summer working, and he had taken her, Marti's stepmother Carol (Meg Tilly) and her half-brother Andy (Reilly Murphy) with him to stay there. Marti had hit her rebellious phase, and was reluctant to go, but without any other options she didn't have much choice. However, something happened when they stopped at a gas station and she went to use the bathroom: there was a soldier in there, panicking, telling her that they get you when you fall asleep...
It was an old story even when this, the third official version of Jack Finney's classic science fiction novel The Body Snatchers, was made, and in spite of some warm reviews, director Abel Ferrara's re-imagining was met with little success and slipped from the public memory almost as if it had never been made. And yet there were a staunch few who, being fans of Ferrara, were not willing to let go of this film so easily; with a roster of writing talent behind the script including cult filmmakers Larry Cohen and Stuart Gordon, perhaps it should not have been dismissed so easily.
Starting with a title sequence that apparently thought it was introducing a remake of Superman: The Movie, Ferrara launches his tale with a style best described as headachey, with the daytime shots taken in too-bright sunlight, making the actors' faces fittinglly obscure as the questions of identity customary to this plot begin to surface. Needless to say, the nighttime scenes are just as unnerving, as that is when the characters fall asleep, but even though this is a brief run through of points from the original, it still takes its time in allowing the big reveal.
It's either a clever idea setting the film on a military base where conformity is the order of the day, or a pretty stupid one, and it's one of the off-kilter strengths of the movie that both could be the case simultaneously. For a start, if aliens are replacing the military with pod people who do exactly as they are told and permit no idiosyncrasies, then how will we know the difference - why bother changing them at all? On the other hand, the aliens represent this social structure taken to an extreme, and the fact that the difference is so hard to detect makes for more worrying possibilities.
We can see Marti is a rebel, but she is undergoing a more familiar teenage form of kicking against authority, specifically her father, resenting the fact that her mother has been "replaced" by the hippy-dippy Carol, and she even has a new brother to factor into her life. The script is littered with people who do not conform, either in a friendly way or a more disruptive fashion, and after a while sequences like the one where everyone in Andy's class draws the same, abstract picture except him are marking out those who have succumbed to the pods and those who have not. Tilly is especially great, showing her skill as she goes from spacey in a good way to spacey in a bad way: she gets the film's best speech as well. Ending ambiguously, but with somewhat unnecessary explosions which seem out of place after such a suspenseful piece, Body Snatchers held its own as a valuable addition to a very decent run of such films. Music by Joe Delia.
1990's King of New York was a return to form, while the searing Bad Lieutenant quickly became the most notorious, and perhaps best, film of Ferrara's career. The nineties proved to be the director's busiest decade, as he dabbled in intense psycho-drama (Dangerous Game, The Blackout), gangster movies (The Funeral), sci-fi (Body Snatchers, New Rose Hotel) and horror (The Addiction). He continued to turn in little-seen but interesting work, such as the urban drug drama 'R Xmas and the religious allegory Mary until his higher profile returned with the likes of Welcome to New York and Pasolini.