August 20, 2007

Don’t Sleep, Someone Might Puke on You

Print More

The Invasion begins with television footage of a U.S. space shuttle exploding upon reentry, carrying with it microscopic space spores that swiftly contaminate a swath from D.C. to Dallas. The fake footage on CNN and Fox is frighteningly realistic, and the movie rarely strays too far from that sense of fantastical realism. There is a slow and satisfying build-up as the world begins to fall apart.
As the U.S. population and government become increasingly transformed into zombie-like creatures those few remaining uninfected are left running around in the streets screaming for help.
An atmosphere of paranoia sets in quickly and doesn’t let up. Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) is a psychiatrist who starts hearing ominous reports of strange activity from her patients. Their loved ones begin acting strangely, as if they are no longer the people they were. As some understanding of the phenomenon begins to dawn on her, a quiet desperation sets in.
The camera work is mostly unobtrusive, though there are moments where it begins to get jittery or jump backwards and forwards in time for split seconds. This cinematic restlessness doesn’t add to the tension, though it does create a bit of nausea. Maybe that was the intention, considering that the central means of “infecting” people seems to be through throw-up. For a film that doesn’t shy away from violence, the most terrifying (and queasiness-inducing) moment occurs at a news conference in which the waiters, already infected, take turns projectile vomiting into the pitchers of coffee.
For a film that is at least part disaster movie, the story presents itself on a surprisingly small scale. Much of the movie is taken up by Carol’s search for her son, whom she needs to find and bring out of D.C. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
While the movie was based on two previous versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as a book, The Body Snatchers, by Jack Finney, this iteration has some echoes of Escape From New York. The Invasion could have been a great B-movie like that film, except for the fact that it works so hard to be an A-picture.
It continually reaches for allegories that ought to be beyond its purview and strains credulity by reaching for too many: psychology, geopolitics, and morality. All of these things are brought into the film when it doesn’t need them.
There has never been a horror film that has benefited from a peek into a diplomatic dinner party. The only moment of note is a heated conversation between Bennell and a Russian diplomat in which she defends mankind against his cynical assessment of humanity without ever changing her expression.
It is either a profound irony or an intentional joke that Nicole Kidman was cast as the lead, as her face in repose is as placid a canvas as one could ask for. If anyone could fool alien-spore infected zombies with a blank stare, it’s her. Whenever she cries (and she cries a lot) it seems so deliberate that its emotional punch is weak. Ms. Kidman’s nice to look at, but she always seems to be consciously emoting. Thankfully, most of the movie requires her to run around and look scared, and she does both of these things very well.
It’s a good thing too, since this is really her film. Daniel Craig spends some time onscreen, as does the great Jeffrey Wright as designated exposition and explanations man, Dr. Stephen Galeano.
Make no mistake, though, this is her show. And it’s not a bad show, at that. It was scary and exciting and there was a flaming car chase as well as a conceit stolen from Pulp Fiction (though executed with less flair). Tellingly, the movie ends on an uneasy note that stuck with me all the way to the parking lot. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never look at puke the same way again.