Review: The Invasion / Vacancy

Posted on September 1, 2007


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Humankind is handed the job of playing alien-virus host in a thrills-free thriller. Plus, a far less ambitious (and far more entertaining) slasher flick.

AUG 31, 2007 – IT’S GALLING ENOUGH to be force-fed good-for-you messages by a regular movie – and by “regular movie,â€? I mean the average, annoyingly earnest, Oscar-bait drama. (Not that using the picture hall as a pulpit is necessarily a bad thing, but my hackles rise when the plot becomes merely an excuse for in-your-face preaching.) But what is one to do when a sci-fi film resorts to the same tricks? Did they go through all the trouble to conjure up alternative, what-if scenarios only to ground them in the same messagey conceits – Human Beings Are Bad Bad Bad; We All Need To Get Along; Group-Hug, Group-Hug; and so on – that we’re already groaning under from the non-sci-fi releases?

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Invasion – yet another adaptation of Jack Finney’s 1955 novel, The Body Snatchers – has a sturdy set-up, that of humans being infected by an alien virus that reduces its victims to near-zombies. (Either that, or a tape of Styx’s Mr. Roboto video wound up in outer space, and its extraterrestrial fans thought they’d return the favour by turning all of mankind into stiff-jointed automatons.) But the exciting narrative possibilities of this premise are quickly jettisoned for ham-fisted discourses about how civilisation is just an illusion, how we are all just animals, and how man is solely responsible for the sorry state of the world today (thereby implying that things can only get better if warts-and-all humankind were replaced by a homegenised brotherhood of almost-humans).

The only thing worse about The Invasion is that it attempts to achieve these means through projectile vomit. I’m not kidding. That’s how those already infected transmit the virus to the yet-to-be-infected. And yet we’re supposed to take seriously the attempts of psychiatrist Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) to save her son and, subsequently, the rest of the world! Filled with lazy clichés – there are at least two instances of dogs growling at the presence of the mutated humans – and terrible casting (Daniel Craig as a “best friendâ€? to Kidman, a platonic pal who makes pancakes for her at breakfast?), The Invasion is a high-minded snooze that made me wish I’d stayed home and re-watched Abel Ferrara’s more down-and-dirty take instead. That 1993 version – called Body Snatchers, and set against the backdrop of the military – got all tangled up in allegory too, but at least it didn’t forget to creep you out.

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IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO experience Vacancy on screen without simultaneously seeing another film in your head – and that mind’s-eye movie is Psycho. Deserted, in-the-middle-of-nowhere motel? Check. Unsuspecting guests whose car breaks down? Check. Mild-mannered behind-the-desk guy who gets his kicks from voyeurism and murder? Check. Black-comedy work-of-art created by a master of suspense? Ulp, not exactly, but then let’s not burden this B-movie with unrealistic expectations. What Vacancy wants to be is a lean, mean throwback, but not to the Hitchcock masterpiece so much as the slew of assembly-line slasher flicks that were spawned off of it. And that modest ambition is quite effectively realised by director Nimród Antal.

David and Amy Fox (Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale) are just a signature away from divorce, when they end up in the millennial equivalent of the Bates motel. Soon, their bickering isn’t the only sound around. The phone rings, but no one’s at the other end. They hear loud knocks on the door, but no one’s outside either. And then – in a plot contrivance that suggests Peeping Tom by way of Caché – they stumble upon you-are-being-watched videotapes that detail the terrifying last moments of the earlier occupants of the room. Can David and Amy escape the grisly fate of the others? And will they rediscover one another in the process? Even if you don’t know the answer to the former question, there can be no doubt about the latter. At least in Hollywood, the family that screams together stays together.

Copyright ©2007 The New Indian Express

Posted in: Cinema: English