The Uninvited (1997)

It seems strange, but one of the seminal SF film and TV series remains little seen in the United States.

I refer, of course, to the original Quatermass serials and the Hammer film remakes that followed.  While he had minimal impact on American SF movies, Quatermass inspired a generation of British SF movies and television shows, including such familiar Fifties films as Fiend Without a Face, The Crawling Eye, and X the Unknown.  While the BBC strove to find something like the Quatermass serials but not quite the same in the Sixties — such as the A for Andromeda serials — and other shows like Doctor Who frequently referenced them, it is somewhat unexpected to find an intriguing slow-burn mystery/SF serial from the late 1990s that could almost be a remake of one of the original stories.

A former photojournalist, Steve Blake, witnesses a strange accident which kills a well-known government minister — only to meet him the next day, alive and perfectly well.  There have been a string of such accidents, involving a lot of important and powerful people, and Blake suspects that someone or something has been systematically replacing them with duplicates…

I suspect those used to the frenetic pace of the typical action movie these days probably will find this one rather slow.  In fact, the story really doesn’t get warmed up until Steve, while diving near the former town of Sweet Hope while investigating the mysterious accident that dumped it into the sea, finds eerie underwater ruins full of skeletons (which is perhaps the most potent image in the whole series).  However, for those who appreciate a good mystery, or a touch of horror in their SF, this offers everything you could ask for:  inexplicable events, sinister conspiracies, friends turning into enemies, strange secrets, a mysterious death or two, and, of course, an alien invasion that is already on the verge of gaining all they’re after.

I suppose American viewers will compare this one to The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, although, as the invasion has already reached some of the most powerful people in the government, it resembles Quatermass II far more — with perhaps a few hints of a film which was itself influenced by Quatermass, The Village of the Damned.  It’s a nice touch that they’ve inverted one of the elements of the original, the need to acclimatize the aliens to our atmosphere, for the main part of the alien plan in this one (although when I think of it, it also bears a strong resemblance to David Twohy’s 1996 film, The Arrival.  But that may be a coincidence).

At any rate, this is an example of what you can do with science fiction when you chose to put story, characters, atmosphere and ideas ahead of fancy effects and digital razzle-dazzle.

Now if we could only get more young filmmakers to make this kind of movie…

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