Movie Review: “Assimilate”

   I went into Assimilate with little to no expectation and no insight ahead of the fact. I wasn’t even for certain about whether I would talk about the film because the circumstances I watched it under. Have you ever browsed through Netflix and then HBO Max, and then Hulu, and then Shudder, and still not been able to find anything to watch? Makes sense. After all, you know what you like, and there is only so much of that to go around. It will also depend on what mood your in and, in turn, the taste and preferences of any person you’re watching with. Eventually, you pick things bone-dry and, unless you want to revisit an old favorite, you have to take a leap of faith (this is especially true in the midst of a Pandemic that is seeing movie releases slowed to a crawl). Assimilate was our leap of faith.

   The film was directed by John Murlowski, a director whose resume includes an assortment of films like Richie Rich’s Christmas Wish, Amityville: A New Generation, and Zombie Hamlet. The film was co-written by Murlowski and Steven Palmer Peterson

   As an aside, although I have not seen Zombie Hamlet, I attended a Comic Con and sat-down and listened while Jason Mewes talked about it. He was talking about how he wanted to challenge himself with different types of roles and singled out the film as a step in that direction. More interesting, however, was that he was not certain if it ever came out or not. Zombie Hamlet came out in 2013 and the Comic Con was four years after that. I am not judging, but I think there is something hilarious about not knowing if a film you were in (and were apparently proud of) was released after nearly half a decade.

   Assimilate has a cast of names you might recognize, but I didn’t. Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy, Katherine McNamara, Andi Matichak, and Cam Gigadet to name a handful. Joel was most recently in the film The Kissing Booth 2 (and its predecessor), Calum was in a well-received film called Bodied, Katherine had the main-role in the show Shadowhunters, Andi played Allyson Strode in the new Halloween, and Cam has been around in various television series’ and movies, respectively (and apparently is a black belt in Krav Maga).

   The audience reception for the film has been mixed at best, whereas the critical-reception is mostly nonexistent. For instance, on Rotten Tomatoes, it has one negative review and three positive, however, if you read the actual reviews for the film, they are not exactly complimentary of it. (“There’s nothing especially original”, “for better or worse, Assimilate is happy to be around,” etc.)

   Calling the film unoriginal is an understatement if I am upfront and honest with you.

   The story follows best friends Zach and Kayla as they discover their neighbors are being killed and replaced by perfect copies, and their now their desperately trying to warn the world about the invasion that’s happening around them.

   I don’t have an issue with the premise of this film. I actually think it’s an evergreen idea that can be taken in a lot of different directions dependent on the creative minds that are involved with it. The general idea will immediately draw comparisons to the science-fiction novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, and subsequently, the million adaptations of that novel. Especially the 1978 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

   Assimilate is a film that has taken a lot of influence from earlier science-fiction horror, and, I think, maybe, a little too much. I remember there is a moment in the film where one of the “Pod people” identifies another by extending their finger and emitting a loud shriek, and I realize, “oh, alright, we’re unabashedly just doing Body Snatchers”. 

   The acting and dialogue isn’t very good. Certain scenes are better than others, but it definitely has scenes that made me actively grit my teeth. It has a very mainstream approach to storytelling, beat-by-beat, and I don’t necessarily know if that benefits or detriments. What I mean is, you can expect a lot of trite story tropes and cliches in this film, and they’re not necessarily badly performed or incorporated, but they really depend on at least a modest level of investment in the characters up til that moment. Like I said, certain scenes do better than others, and I think, maybe, without knowing for sure, the film’s production might have been hastier than what’s ideal.

   The special-effects are very apparent and very offsetting overall. Throughout the film, the Pod people will chase their victims and torment them. They will flip over things and cause a serious ruckus! All of it, for the most part, looks fairly decent in that respect. This is not a Hollywood blockbuster by any definition and I understand and respect that. I have never enjoyed writing “bad” movie reviews and now, with Nickelbib, as I have interviewed and personally met a lot of aspiring filmmakers and seen the hurdles they have to overcome in production, I especially don’t like to do it. All the same, how they implemented CGI-imagery in this film really checked me out from the film. Black dots scrambling across the screen that you can absolutely tell were added in-post, and overlays of “viruses” spreading throughout the town. These were very simple things that could have either been handled differently. They could have bought a container of black pepper and a standing fan, and that would have captured the scene better than what they went with. As for the other scene, I think they could have deleted it altogether and that would have substantially improved the film.

   The cinematography is a mixed-bag of emotion. I appreciated some of the technique implemented, in-terms of lighting and camera-angles, etc., but, otherwise, was more bothered by the “digital” aesthetic, which so often, without a proper handling, can make a film feel like it is a YouTube video.

   In a lot of ways, I actually found myself making that comparison while I watched the film (that it looked like a YouTube film). Like, a YouTube content creator with an actual budget and general know-how, mind you, but a glossy production you might expect to see on that platform.

   Assimilate is not a horrible film, but I wouldn’t call it a good, or even decent film. With a certain frame of mind, you can find enjoyment. If you take the film as a celebration of the Body Snatchers sub-genre of horror and not as a film with new ideas and new experiences, it is not a slog to get through. Had they incorporated their own new and unique ideas, maybe that rising water would have raised all ships, had they went in original directions, but, as it is, they didn’t and it feels like something to move on from without looking back.

Rating: “1.5 out of 5.0”