There have been many adaptations of Jack Finney’s classic science fiction tale The Body Snatchers, where alien organisms arrive on Earth and quickly proceed to duplicate the inhabitants, but as this has now become almost a subgenre, I see no problem with anyone taking another swing at the bat. Right off the top, I’ll state that this movie will not be replacing either the 1956 version with Kevin McCarthy nor the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers with Donald Sutherland, as the best take on “alien body snatching” movies — those two pretty much have a lock on the subgenre — but with 2019’s Assimilate, writer/director John Murlowski still manages to add a few nice twists of his own to make his version worth a look.
This film follows the exploits of three teens as they try and survive an insidious alien invasion — though which one of them won’t survive is quite apparent from the get-go. The trio consists of Zack Henderson (Joel Courtney) and his best friend Randy Foster (Calum Worthy) who spend much of their time in their small town of Oblivion making a web series that is to show the world the “Reality” of their hometown. Why they think anyone outside of this town would give a shit is beyond me, but as the internet is full of these kinds of idiots, I can’t really argue with the screenplay on that point. Rounding out the trio is Kayla Shepard (Andi Matichak) who is Zack’s high school crush and this film’s almost love interest. That even one of these three makes it to the end of this film illustrates either how bad these aliens are at their job (as they escape the clutches of the aliens so often you could make it a drinking game), or more likely that they don’t consider these idiots as a serious threat.
If you’ve seen any version of the alien body snatcher genre, you’ll notice that director Murlowski follows the formula rather closely; the alien threat arrives, we get people claiming that loved ones are not who they say they are — “That’s not my mommy!” — and more and more residents will start acting like emotionless automatons as if they’ve been overdosing on Xanax. Our heroes will then scramble around town trying to prove that something sinister is happening, but will either not be believed or will be futilely talking to someone who has already been swapped out and then there will be, of course, a scene where heroes have to feign emotionlessness so as to blend into the alien body snatchers. Pretty standard stuff and as a whole, the young cast pull it off quite well — aside from the hero death exemption card that is repeatedly played throughout the film’s run-time — but where this film differs mostly from its brethren is in the mechanics of the body-snatching, as this time out we get a different sort of alien cloning.
Like its forefathers, this film does have alien duplicates gestating in pods — you’re not a prober body-snatching film without pods — but the process Murlowski came up with for his take on the genre is rather clever. Little bacterial-like spores float down to Earth where they could then group together, like some kind of alien nanotech, and form a creepy spider creature that would find a target, bite them and thus harvest their DNA. Then your traditional alien body snatching pod would grow a clone of said victim, but here is the interesting twist: the clone is a mindless creature that then instinctively hunts down the original so as to absorb their memories. Think of it as an illegal downloading process. This is certainly not as effective as just waiting for your victims to fall sleep, but that often results in naked clones running around like enraged zombies.
• We get an opening shot of a leaf that is very reminiscent of the opening of the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers where the alien spores affixed themselves to the neighbouring plant life.
• The aliens are really slow at taking out the town’s authority figures. They immediately take out the Sheriff but then fail to turn the Deputy in such a timely fashion for some reason.
• Zack and Kayla strangely believe they can rescue her little brother from assimilation even though he’s been left in the custody of the aliens for an entire day. Even stranger is the fact that they are able to save him. A clear case of “It’s in the script” survival.
• You’d think an alien invasion force would have some kind of code identifier so that normal humans couldn’t just walk around pretending to be aliens.
• The aliens are given the same alien warning call that Donald Sutherland screeched at the end of the 1978 version.
Overall, Assimilate is a fine teen version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with its young cast doing admirable work here, but the film’s low budget does tend to work against the film in some key sequences and thus, it often comes across like a low rent version of The Faculty. I have to admire John Murlowski for trying something new with such well-tread ground, and some fans of the genre may find it a little too oldhat for their tastes, but I say it’s well worth checking out.
Movie Rank - 6/10
Clichés abound in John Murlowski Assimilate but that is something one must come to accept when viewing the umpteenth remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Murlowski brought enough new things to the table to keep me interested.