I threw this on expecting shitty, disposable horror, something to serve as background noise while I thought about my life or whatever. To my surprise I actually found myself very involved - this is a sleek, beautifully filmed thriller that obviously earned a poor reputation following in the footsteps of its (overrated) predecessor. By no means is it perfect, especially when Abel Ferrara found himself confronted by a low budget and chose not to work around his problems, but through him. This leads to some laughably bad special effects issues, especially one spoilerrific occasion toward the very end of the film. A potentially horrifying final note instead becomes risible. He mostly knows how to work with his shortcomings but there are times when less could well have been more.
The performances are a mixed bag. Meg Tilly, in a minimal role, manages to be surprisingly effective, though I wonder about that final monologue of hers. Her delivery is interesting; I don't know if it was an instance of the actress trying to sound haunting and profound and failing, or a confused pseudo-human trying to do the same. No way to tell, I guess. Gabrielle Anwar is functional and it's amusing to see her so young, before the Sci-Fi channel kidnapped her and forced her to do 80 TV movies about fish demons. Her character is a bit sullen but it's easy to forget that every 17 year old, including yourself, once was. The dad and boyfriend are both lousy, and the six-year-old pretty much gives a six-year-old performance. Forest Whitaker, in a two-scene cameo, is amusingly overdone. I couldn't imagine someone this hammy going on to win an Oscar fifteen years later (for a similarly overdone performance). Good news for Ben Foster, I suppose.
Where Body Snatchers regains lost ground is some surprisingly effective visual work. Abel Ferrara, given a project that doubtlessly amounted to little more than cheap popcorn fare, instead opted to turn it into something cinematographically striking. His command of lighting and mise-en-scene lend a certain menace to every scene, even the peaceful ones; characters are often framed off-center and night is hued with an offputting white light. Just as this environment feels alien to young Marti, so too does it look alien to a viewer. Shots that may have been throwaways for other directors - Meg Tilly throwing a suspicious garbage bag away, a kid's game in the woods, a network of tendrils crawling through the vent - suddenly become vivid and memorable. It's clear that Ferrara has a lot of respect for and knowledge of his craft.
Anyway, this seems to be largely dismissed as trash horror, and that's a shame. It's not a gem of unparalleled quality or anything, but it dances with some interesting themes like ostracization and the feeling of being "transplanted," both in a human and supernatural sense. In only 87 minutes, Ferrara presents a complete (if not thin) narrative and a thematic structure, tied neatly together with some great aesthetic work and inventive scares. If you're looking for underseen 90s horror, or feel like compulsively watching all the Body Snatchers remakes, this is a great stop.