ASSIMILATE **** USA 2019 Dir: John Murlowski. 93 mins
Jack Finney’s evergreen paranoia classic “The Body Snatchers” tends to get a Hollywood reinterpretation every two decades or so and the era of Trump and fake news feels like the most apt backdrop for the story since the McCarthy-era emergence of Don Siegel’s 1956 original.
Recycling familiar beats from earlier BODYSNATCHERS movies while adding a video blog narrative device and protagonists struggling to prove video evidence is “real”, this is a fast-paced, teen-pitched variation on the theme. Likeable Joel Courtney and Calum Worthy’s spy-cam web series dedicated to showing the people of their small town “how they really are” starts to accidentally pick up signs of an alien invasion. While the cops think they have simply photoshopped creatures into their videos, the boys and the audience know that the rapid takeover has already claimed several local authority figures – and race to upload their footage for the world at large to see.
Taut and suspenseful, ASSIMILATE effectively reworks the pod person’s shrieking rally cry from the 1978 and 1993 versions and skilfully sustains a sense of unease via chilling individual scenes like the creepily calm gathering of altered locals around a town square bonfire of the humans they have replaced. Fresh riffs include the presence of bug-like creatures – perhaps inspired by Robert Heinlein’s “The Puppetmasters” – that bite and claw victims to obtain the DNA they need – and there’s a powerful moment involving one of the heroes confronting the naked, feral clone of his own mother. It’s a familiar but always gripping tale well told, with an ending that is more overtly apocalyptic than any of the previous incarnations – perfect for our grim times.
Review by Steven West