People in the background of shots look directly at the camera. Matthew’s windscreen is a web of cracks that we struggle to see through. The score is spidery and jarring, and the camera is often off-kilter. You are not paranoid if everyone is out to get you. The ending is famous, and even though I know I saw it as a teenager, I had forgotten it all.
It opens with alien spores spreading over San Francisco. A web-like substance cross-pollinates with local plants to create millions of tiny pods. Matthew works at the public health department with Elizabeth, whose husband begins to act like he is someone else. Matthew takes her to see a psychiatrist friend, David Kibner, at his book launch, played by the wonderfully insufferable Leonord Nimoy. They hook up with Matthew’s friends, Jack and Nancy, and as they work out what’s going on, they find themselves isolated among the quickly cloned citizens of the city.
When cloned people come for the group, they are worse than zombies, which at least look dead. These are retired neighbours, police officers and nurses. Everyone is an informant. Nancy tells Kibner what she thinks is going on, and she is right, but she loses her argument as she spins the truth into her personal conspiracy theories. Like QAnon and Trump’s fake news, Nancy trusts the wrong sources, sees patterns where there are none, and chooses not to believe the facts. It’s the uncanny world of fascism. The final quarter goes full horror. Watching Matthew bash in the face of his own pod creature with a shovel is one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen. A perfect film for its time, and for now.