By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Best friends Zach (Joel Courtney), Randy (Calum Worthy), and Kayla (Andi Matichak) discover that their neighbours are being killed and replaced by perfect copies of their victims. Their only chance to survive is to covertly record the invasion in a desperate attempt to warn the world.
Directed by John Murlowski and co-written with Steven Palmer Peterson
Starring Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy and Andi Katichak.
Sometimes a movie comes along that not only hits you from nowhere but is so good you have to wonder why it isn’t up there with the classics.
For me, I first became aware of Assimilate through a YouTube trailer and thought it looked pretty good. This would be right up my street but little did I know how much. A little voice in the back of my head whispered that there was something familiar about it but I never gave it a second thought.
When I got the chance to watch it I was not only blown away but got reacquainted with a remake of an old friend. This isn’t going to be a review where you have to wait until the end to find out if I liked or not; I loved it!
Not only is it perfect in every department but delivers a shock ending right up there with the original Planet of the Apes.
Zach (Joel Courtney) and Randy (Calum Worthy) who live in the quiet town of Multon, Missouri and the boys intend to show the world that their town is not as dull as it seems by vlogging.
Unfortunately, things go sour as they find that their neighbours are not who they once were as silent spores drift from the sky and a new type of vermin seems to have infested the area biting people. Together with their friend Kayla (Andi Matichak), they discover the truth. People are being replaced by soulless copies. The race is on to save the world and everyone they love before Pastor Greg and his army convert the world too.
It wasn’t until part way through the movie did I realise that this was in fact a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.
Remaking a classic is a risky thing (Yes I’m talking about you Psycho, Dirty Dancing, Pet Semetary and Star Wars The Force Awakens.)
But when it is done right then you get Assimilate.
This movie is as effective as the original adding in the alien spider like creatures as a new slant. We still get shots of spores floating down from the heavens and some beautiful nods to the original and its remakes. But it is all spliced together with teenagers of today making it feel like it could happen now just as the original reflected its time.
As I said we have some beautiful nods to the original such as the little kid being dragged along the street by his mother and him crying out that she is not his mummy. This is a nice reflection on society today where if a child is seen in the street doing this most people will do something but here the residents of Multon ignore it, a clue to how many have been converted. The internet and all forms of communication to the outside world are gone. This reduces the movie to the original’s truly small town roots. The only option is to head to a communication station on the outskirts of town and upload Zch and Randy’s video proving their story is real. But hunted as the last of the humans in Multon, Zach and Kayla may not make it.
When Zach and Kayla pretend to be zombified to walk through the alien hordes is classic Bodysnatchers fear fest that was used to similar fashion in the Faculty. Also when Zach and Randy are locked in a barn with spiders and they witness Zach’s mother’s conversion is truly brilliant. As his wheelchair bound father walks, Zach then sees his mother murdered before him. There is no blood just screeching as the alien takes her memories to complete itself. Murlowski truly knows how to work the audience anticipation and makes the locked in the dark with a monster scenario fresh and new. Allowing a man to walk again is a miracle but the price is his soul; his love for his wife and son; everything that made them a family.
Anticipation of what is coming and the scares are beautifully crafted all through the movie from the discovery of Kayla’s dad mother in a bathroom cupboard to Kayla being held down to be converted.
Similarly when the alien Kayla and Zach’s naked selves come screaming like banshees to steal their memories is terrifying. Gone is the subtle pod conversion only method; now we have the silent invasion which then becomes a living breathing screaming nightmare. Making the hosts screaming maniacs here intensifies the scares because the residents of Multon are literally fighting themselves to keep their souls. Souls absorbed by mere touch is bad enough but when your evil mirror self is responsible for it then it takes horror to a whole new level. Worse still they then steal your clothes and throw you on a bonfire.
We see children being lined up by their parents to be infected so we can only imagine the terror these kids will experience in their dying moments when their new selves come to drain their minds. Losing yourself is bad enough but to stand by and watch your children being taken is chilling.
What all the Bodysnatchers movies share is showing us the conversion process and its aftermath to chill us to the bone. In previous versions we have had the human body being drained and crumbling to dust. You are brushed up in a dust pan then placed in a bin bag and dumped in the trash.
Assimilate makes it even scarier this time round.
This time you get bitten by the arachnid creatures that scurry away like rats. Biting the host gains them access to their DNA which allows them to copy their victims perfectly. In a nice twist these new ‘humans’ hunt their victim down to grab them by the head to absorb their memories. The host dies and the body burned. The person you were is gone replaced by another you with all your memories but with no idea of why you did anything. This is demonstrated when Zach and Kayla meet the alien Randy who recalls them fishing at a creek but never catching anything. Alien Randy cannot fathom the purpose to that. There is no purpose; it was kids being kids enjoying their summers. They are perfect in every way except for the lack of a soul.
The tragedy is the Randy we know and love is being burned on a bonfire in the town square which in itself is a horrifying scene. We know that every person, men, women and children converted end up here and seeing bones through the flames is something almost satanic. It is literally Hell on Earth. Everything that makes us unique and spices up our world is gone in these symbolic pyres.
But it is the ending that subverts all our expectations which I can’t give away as it wouldn’t be fair and kicks us in the balls. Pet Semetary could have used the touch of Murlowski and Palmer Peterson instead of the pile of shit we were given. Assimilate delivers horror that is familiar but with a subtle new spin that makes it make us step back once more and think.
There isn’t a wooden performance or shot that doesn’t mean something here. The whole story is crafted to rip out our souls by the end by which time we realise too late and to our cost, we have been watching Assimilate with the eyes of the original.
So the question is; is Assimilate going to have a space on Owen’s Blu Ray shelf? Is it rewatchable like the Thing and Halloween?
Damn straight and you should too. Brilliant.