Eye For Film >> Movies >> Assimilate (2019) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
It's 67 years since Jack Finney's classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers was first published, and few books have ever inspired so many cinematic interpretations. Though it's set in the 21st Century and focused on teenagers, this latest version, directed and co-written by John Murlowski, goes back to the source material for many of its ideas, as sharp-eyed viewers will observe in the opening scenes. It's not a great film - and where teen takes it concerned it will always be hard to compete with The Faculty - but it's smarter than it looks on the surface and it packs in enough thrills to be appealing to young people as yet unfamiliar with the way that this story has wound its way through US film history.
Zach (Joel Courtney) and Randy (Calum Worthy) are best friends trying to make their names with a video blog which documents the realities of life in their small town - something which has already rubbed up those in authority the wrong way. One day they go to the aid of a neighbour who has been bitten by something and is in a state of terror. The next day she's fine, denying that the incident occurred and behaving very strangely. They take their concerns to the police but no-one takes them seriously. Then they encounter schoolfriend Kayla (Andi Matichak), who has witnessed something deeply disturbing in her own home, and together they start to put the pieces together.
Something seems to be stealing DNA from the townspeople one by one and then replacing them. They need to get help, or at least to get the word out, but naturally cellphone signals have been blocked. It's probably hard for older viewers to fully comprehend just how unsettling this is for the young - much more so than the loss of landline communication in Finney's novel. They have lost not only their voices but their library. Now they will have to rely on their wits.
Although none of the young leads is particularly strong and the plot has been stripped down to a degree that doesn't allow for much character building, the story itself rattles along at a fair pace and packs in its share of creepy moments. Some of the cleverer and more evocative moments from the novel - not all of which made it into the famous 1956 version - are smoothly integrated into the narrative. As one would expect, this is less subtle, with several violent scenes. There's some nice work around the physical threat posed by women, which Finney would have approved of. It's refreshing to see a naked teenage girl run along a corridor not looking sexual in the least (Murlowski is very careful how he shoots this) but looking seriously dangerous.
Most adaptations of the book have drawn on one or another of the metaphors embedded within it to provide a deeper subtext. That's missing here - one wonders what, for this generation , it would be - and the film is poorer for it. It becomes a mere survival story rather than a political imperative. As such, it's unlikely to stick in your mind, but if you're just looking for something to get you on the edge of your seat on a Friday night, you could do worse.Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2021