Why are aliens so hell-bent on curing humanity of its ills? In “The Invasion,” director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s take on the Jack Finney sci-fi classic “The Body Snatchers,” a space-shuttle disaster showers the American countryside with alien spores. Before long, the world is overrun with emotionless drones disguised in human form, slaves to a collective will who offer global peace — in exchange for our souls.
It’s a chilling but strangely tantalizing prospect, one tackled most famously in Don Siegel’s menacing “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) and later in Philip Kaufman’s campier 1978 remake, set in San Francisco. Both films spoke in simple, terrifying terms to the effects of both complacency and mass hysteria, as a mutant race of pod people steals the very essence of our humanity, however flawed, with disquieting ease.
There are no pod people in “The Invasion,” but its message is clear: Individuality, and all the conflict that arises from it, is preferable to widespread mind control at the hands of soul-sucking aliens. (Fair enough, but who’s arguing?) Otherwise, “The Invasion,” unlike its superior predecessors, is neither ironic nor satirical. It exists merely to scare, and in that regard, it is only sporadically successful.
From the opening frame, there is a building sense of paranoid dread, as wives watch their husbands turn into expressionless monsters and children sense an unsettling disconnect from their parents. The government initially attributes the trend to a flu-like virus; Carol Bennell (Nicole Kidman) suspects otherwise, and spends the rest of the film trying to rescue her son (Jackson Bond) from a growing army of automatons.
And yet, despite the impressively tense atmosphere fostered by the film’s opening act, there is too little in the way of payoff. Once “The Invasion” runs out of fresh or at least entertaining ideas — roughly around the halfway mark — it settles into a monotonous groove of close encounters sandwiched between violent and wildly improbable car chases. In the end, it lumbers awkwardly toward a conclusion that is foregone but noticeably untidy, wasting a stellar cast.
The Invasion **
Starring Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Jeremy Northam, Jackson Bond, Jeffrey Wright
Written by David Kajganich, based on the novel by Jack Finney
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes