Its haunting and creepy. The tension builds in slow and subtle ways and the scenes are artful. Watching the opening with the spores floating through the sky, landing on earth, then receiving sunlight and rain, is quite beautiful. But you sense its not good, so when they grow flowers and then you see children handling them, the creepy level rises. (Children make everything creepier!) And there is priest on the playground! Clearly a different time.
I love the angles in the scene where Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) is talking to her boyfriend about the unusual flowers and how she is researching them. There is a moment where they come together in bed and we just see their reflections in the glass by the greenhouse, so that their bodies seem superimposed on the plants, lovely and strange and foreshadow-y!
And these characters are real regular people, I mean, health inspectors? how nerdy is that? But Matthew (the Sutherland) and Elizabeth have the appropriate expertise to figure this out, so it works. And something I adore about older flicks is that the people look normal, they come in different sizes and have quirky features and dont look like spokesmodels reading lines. Also I like that Matthew is likable in that he is standing up to a snooty restaurant for breaking the rules, but in general I dont like the sticklers. So this adds some complexity for me and gives the character depth
Elizabeth’s beau is the first to go and she immediately senses the change and begins to draw conclusions.This is not a mood or a distraction, he is genuinely not himself.
Anyway, this film reminds me how the deliverer of truth usually is not believed at first, maybe they are a child or crazy or in this case a woman talking about her boyfriend acting cold(yes I am rolling my eyes here.) Sometimes (not this movie) we even see scenes where an animal reacts to something not there, same device. We can’t believe a dog! Unfortunately, the response to them is usually patronizing, not without good reason, of course. The message is clearly bizarre and shouldn’t be accepted by intelligent people so Matthew takes her to his friend Dr Kibner, a famous therapist.
But there are weird vibes all around this dude, played by Leonard Nimoy, who brings the creepy oh so well. This is a bit of social commentary, I believe. We are seeing how manipulative psychology or pop psych can be. And especially when coupled with the celebrity this person has.
Here we also meet their friends the Bellicecs, who are way hip. Jack, played by Jeff Goldblum, is a writer who bitches about other writers and spews some pretty funny rants at this psychobabble meet-up. And Nancy (the totes awesome, Veronica Cartwright) runs some therapeutic mud bath joint with a lot of crazy, fat, intellectual guys who look like rejects from a Bolshevik club. Oddly, the bath house is actually about baths and health and not something pervy. Its also cool that they are very well-read and talk books here.
The weirdness increases. Elizabeth is freaking out as she can tell more people have changed. Matthew encounters it too. Jack gets duplicated at the bath house which helps them start to figure things out. He staves off a complete takeover by not sleeping -but only for so long.
They resist, try to inform others, discover why the shrink is so manipulative and are told to conform for a better life, free from trouble.
Clearly, the message here concerns conformity, hegemony, having a problem-less life. It seems ideal but society loses its humanity. But its also downright scary, slowly building the terror with increasing revelations about what is going on. And it has the same effect as zombification does, they are us but not us, a bizarro us, a nightmare us, shells with no heart, no compassion, no personality.
There are noble struggles here and a determined sense of optimism. Matthew declares that they will beat them, Nancy agrees, Elizabeth is exhausted. Matthew amends his comments to mean humans will eventually resist, seeming to understand how outnumbered they have become, but clinging to some hope. Also there is a mutated dog which ruins their attempt at blending in by being emotionless (Nancy’s hot tip.)
Elizabeth goes after some tremendously poignant moments between her and Matthew. Donald makes me want to cry.
Then there is super high action pod factory destruction! Fire! Explosions! Collapsing structures!
And some time passes and Nancy finds Matthew after presumably hiding in clear view of the pod-people, he is glimmer of hope that lights her eyes. But not really, they got him too. He detects her and screams peircingly as they are wont to do.
Bleak endings are sophisticated because they do not give us what we want but what we know is likely. The screams that punctuate the ending pierce us, deepening the fear and sense of defeat. Yet the relatability is complete. Just as when we identified with the struggle because we can relate to these people, their jobs, clothes, and their will to survive, we also know when we have lost.
Ultimately, horror is about the horrible, which is made more so when it wins.