Each generation has put their own cinematic spin on Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The subtext of Don Siegel's '50s version was the red scare. Phillip Kaufman's late-'70s adaptation satirized "me decade" narcissism and psychiatry. Abel Ferrara's '90s version, simply titled Body Snatchers, is a commentary on the dissolution of the American family. The key to the film is the family dynamics of the Malone house. The opening narration explains that Marty, a teenage girl, does not get along with her stepmother. Short and effective domestic scenes demonstrate that her relationship with her father is suffering because of the unstated tension. It is in this context that Ferrara introduces the concept of not knowing who the people around you are. Marty is already unsure of who she can trust before the issue of aliens ever enters the picture. Added to this emotional landscape is the physical setting of a military base. In a place where everybody by nature follows orders, figuring out who the emotionless pod people are becomes quite a bit more difficult. These two elements, firmly established in the opening 15 minutes of the film, allow Ferrara to fashion a science-fiction horror film rich in thematic resonance.
In addition to being smart, the film is quite scary. The alien pods grow long tentacles that attack by sliding into a sleeping person's nose and mouth. These scenes work on a sheer visceral level. The corruptibility of the human body in these scenes is practically Cronenberg-esque. In addition to the shocking visuals, Ferrara does a masterful job of building the tension throughout the last forty-five minutes of the film. A most effective horror film with sly commentary on what divorce does to families, Body Snatchers is a welcome variation on this seemingly timeless story.