Del reviews ‘Assimilate’
“Assimilate” Starring Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy and Andi Matichak. Directed by John Murlowski. 1 hour, 33 minutes. Not rated.
It was a tweet that led me to the Refinery 29 list of 130 best new movies on Netflix, and from that I made my own list because I don’t see myself watching sappy holidays flicks where the man and woman fall in love despite their political differences (The very idea bludgeons my suspension of disbelief).
That’s how I tumbled onto “Assimilate,” which shares a common trait with “Spiderman.” How?
The two are part of an endless cycle of recycling.
How many versions of “Spiderman” will Hollywood make before they finally leave it alone? Same goes for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the 1956 classic about the Red Scare. “Assimilate” is, what, the fourth of fifth iteration of that movie? I’ve lost count.
Far be it from me to criticize – I watched the whole damn thing. But honestly: Hollywood, do you need a new scary sci-fi horror movie idea? I’ve got several available if you can lay off the sequels and re-imaginings and revisions.
“Assimilate” takes place in a small town called Multon, Missouri, which looks pretty nice to me – neat and clean, with lots of well kept homes, sparse traffic and a lack of crime that allows you to leave your doors unlocked at night. And it’s those qualities that make Multon a living hell for Zach (Joel Courtney), Randy (Calum Worthy) and Zach’s crush, Kayla (Andi Matichak).
Zach can’t leave because his father lost the use of his legs in … well, I don’t remember the movie explaining that detail. But Zach must stay to help his mother take care of his dad. Randy can’t leave because he’s a loser. Kayla IS leaving and the threat of her absence might prompt Zach into revealing his decade-long crush on her … but the monsters upend that timetable.
Zach and Randy are passing the summer making a vlog about how boring their town is, which they somehow expect people to watch. The video from their cameras provides footage throughout the movie but we’re not talking found-footage; “Assimilate” is mostly live action, thank God.
Strange things begin to happen in Multon as (a) weird little bugs appear and (b) even stranger, floating spore-like organisms take to the Missouri skies, except only WE can see them. That struck me as odd – why two possible catalysts for the invasion we know is already taking place?
People begin taking on the flat affect of a telemarketer (unless it’s Candi, who calls me at least once a month to discuss how I could improve my credit score) and soon Zach and Randy are asking themselves who can be trusted, especially after Mrs. Henderson evolves from horny sex addict to prudish schoolmarm in a single evening. Kayla joins their ranks after her own father becomes robotic and unearthly.
What follows is the usual “Body Snatchers” process whereby the protagonist(s) try to make others aware of the danger and when that doesn’t work, escape themselves.
I mean, what can I say? It wasn’t awful and I don’t have many gripes – the dual-threat thing, yes. That was unnecessary. Oh, and they kept saying they would rescue Kayla’s little brother from the pod people but leaving him with the pod people. The ending departed from most, but not all of the earlier versions, if that’s a virtue.
Other than that, “Assimilate” was nothing more than a 2019 refresh of a 50-something-year-old classic featuring young actors who might be recognizable to the current generation (Courtney starred in the JJ Abrams movie “Super 8” and Worthy was the goofy sidekick in Disney’s “Austin & Alley”). It broke no new ground, but neither did it salt the earth of its predecessors.
I watched it on Netflix and didn’t hate it, hence a C+ grade.
Stone is a former journalist and author.