Does 'The Invasion' Actually Suck?
Ten years later, the critically derided alien thriller seems awfully relevant.
The Invasion/Warner Bros. Pictures
Does It Suck? takes a deeper look at pop cultural artifacts previously adored, unjustly hated, or altogether forgotten, reopening the book on topics that time left behind.
The Invasion, the fourth film adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers, has a 19% Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Its Metacritic rating is 45. The movie, which stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, barely had a theatrical run. It didn't launch Craig into popularity among US audiences, nor did it make director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) a household name. If most people know the film, it's either because of its rad retro poster or the Hollywood gossip surrounding an uncredited last-minute rewrite by the Wachowskis.
We didn't want The Invasion when it was released in August of 2007—when the viewing public had already seen multiple jittery, camera-shaking, post-9/11 thrillers about worlds gone mad. (Plus, most of these were also uninspired remakes, like 2004's The Manchurian Candidate or 2005's War of The Worlds.) We already that knew everything was awful and getting worse, and we didn't need Nicole Kidman and some guy we'd never heard of having a breakdown in a post-apocalyptic CVS to make us think, "Hey, maybe the modern world is a little screwed up."
In 2017 however, The Invasion takes on a different light. It feels fresh and prescient. It's also shocking, really, that a middle-aged woman led a sci-fi horror movie around a political theme (and where Daniel Craig is definitely in the girlfriend role). How did we sleep on this in 2007?
The original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers worked because it was vague. It could've been about anything, and it read equally as anti-Communist or anti-Madison Avenue. It was the perfect cover for a paranoid 1950s that saw spies and informants under every bed and in every closet.
The Invasion, however, is more direct. It's a movie about fascism, political dogma, and what happens when you realize your friends and fellow citizens are fascist collaborators from outer space. The Invasion addresses how those elements are quickly and forcefully weaved into society, establishing themselves as the only logical recourse. The body snatchers of The Invasion are still the original friends and family you knew before they turned. They're not clones or pod people—they just want make humanity great again.
It's easy to understand why critics and audiences did not respond well to The Invasion. It's an intense movie, with dogs menacing small children no less than 20 minutes in. There's no time to catch your breath before the DC metro is lit up in green and blue like an alien torch rally while everyone's pointing and screaming. Critics weren't on board with the non-stop car crashes and out-of-nowhere action scenes, but they also depict what it's like to be besieged on all sides. Their invasion—of personal space, privacy, and political imagination ("It's us or nothing")—is everywhere and overwhelming, and any moment of calm would undercut the central message.
The original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers ends with a man screaming, "THEY'RE ALL AROUND YOU! YOU'RE NEXT!" This movie picks up where that leaves off, with a small band of uninfected people quickly realizing the invasion isn't coming—it's already happened, and they lost. In 2017, we can all relate to waking up one day and thinking people had contracted an alien space fungus overnight.
The themes of invasion come up early in the form of invasive noise, invaded personal space, and breaking and entering. But it's mostly represented in assault by bodily fluids: The fascist space spores transmit via fluid contact, so infected people keep spitting in people's faces and drinks, non-consensually breaking boundaries between themselves and others. They get in by infecting civil discourse and overpowering people in swarms, polluting safe spaces, literally vomiting into the common coffee machines.
These spores eventually confront Carol (Kidman), explaining how through them world peace is possible—not to mention that the trains will run on time and all illness and conflicts will be resolved. They just need her to "do nothing," to sleep. "When you wake up, you'll feel exactly the same. Just rest, we'll take care of it," they say, holding a body bag in the other hand.
Their primary weapon is fatigue, unawareness, and apathy. In a subway car, Carol is pinged by other uninfected humans trying to disguise themselves. They tell her not to react and not to show emotion. Later, during a public murder of two people, a woman cries out and is carted away; empathy is a liability. Caring about what happens to others is how they suss out the uninfected.
The movie's meaning is clear: there's no working with fascists. They want you to mess up and try to work with them. Anything but a literal version of eternal vigilance gives them a path to sneak in, and they want to sneak in all the time. But then, there's the ending—which was derided by critics and supposedly crafted by producers who worried the original ending was too much of a downer. It reveals that, post-cure, no one remembers being a fascist space parasite at all. Everything is fine, Daniel Craig isn't a monster, and everybody's happy!
But that's bullshit. Every Wachowski movie has intense leftist messages—the villains in Jupiter Ascending were literally vampire capitalists—and the ending of The Invasion is entirely on purpose, depicting a false premise everyone agrees to go along with so people can go on with their lives. It reads fake because it is fake.
There's a critical beat before the end the movie that focuses on Kidman's face as she listens to the news. She puts on her best face, but there's a flicker of awareness, too: "Everyone I know, including my husband, potentially has fascist space spores inside them." Maybe the cost of freedom is eternal vigilance after all.
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