Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: John Murlowski
Writer: John Murlowski, Steven Palmer Peterson
Producer: William Fay, John Murlowski
Stars: Joel Courtney, Calum Worthy, Andi Matichak, Katherine McNamara, Tonetta Weaver, Kevin Remington, Terry Dale Parks, Mason McNulty, Cam Gigandet
Three teens discover murderous alien clones are secretly replacing their small town’s population.
Even though its user reviews are as much of a vitriol pit as any online comments section, IMDb’s aggregate user rating can be a fair indicator of a movie’s probable quality. You just have to know how to recalibrate the ranking.
If an indie horror film with a couple hundred votes averages around 6.0, and those votes aren’t from ballot-stuffing cast and crewmembers, chances are the movie might be well worth your time. Somewhere in the fives can be a good score for a microbudget effort too.
Once a rating dips into the fours, and confidence exists that enough legitimate viewers cancel out automatic haters as well as the filmmaker’s friends and family, it’s safe to say popular opinion agrees the movie is not good. For twos and threes, we can confidently incorporate the word “sucks.”
Again, so much chicanery goes on with people intentionally inflating and deflating these numbers, grains of salt should always season judgment. Personal preferences and current moods naturally affect how someone’s opinion will align with someone else’s rating too. As a loose guideline however, that scale can help turn IMDb’s star system into useful information when deciding what to watch.
Of course, it’s not a foolproof rule of thumb, as evidenced by “Assimilate”. When I saw the movie scored 4.7 based on 382 votes, I frowned with disappointment because the formula implied I was walking into a bona fide bomb. Now watching with diminished expectations, I was struck by surprise over how much I ended up enjoying the film. I had to wonder, was “Assimilate” a target of unfair review bombing or am I merely in a minority of people who can’t see what the supposed problem is?
One justified criticism “Assimilate” can’t get around involves originality. I’d wager any amount of money that you couldn’t find a single review, including this one, that doesn’t mention “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Clearly, that’s exactly what “Assimilate” is, just with a teenager twist.
Not much happens in Multon, Missouri. To prove it to their YouTube subscribers, high school buddies Zach and Randy hit the suburban streets of their Podunk hometown, recording daily boredom by interviewing residents and documenting nothingness.
Persistence pays off when the boys walk in on a creature attacking a neighbor and they inadvertently capture the aftermath on camera. Unfortunately, the disinterested deputy assumes the duo’s footage, which includes a pastor moving robotically while collecting the creature, is part of a prank. Bizarre behavior continues all over Multon with no one believing Zach and Randy’s claims until Zach’s crush Kayla notices something off about her father. Now the three teens have to unravel an alien clone conspiracy before doppelgangers come to destroy them too.
Why watch “Assimilate” instead of Kevin McCarthy or Donald Sutherland pointing at pod people for the umpteenth time? For starters, “Assimilate” boasts a fresh-faced cast of up-and-comers who are uniformly strong across the board. Andi Matichak will be familiar as Laurie Strode’s granddaughter in “Halloween” 2018 (review here). Calum Worthy of “American Vandal” and Joel Courtney flank either side, completing a committed triad that makes a familiar plot more appealing through a pinch of youthful personality.
Adult actors also meet their marks. It seems easy to play a stiffly speaking automaton with wide eyes, but Vito Viscuso as Kayla’s dad adds a steely intensity that knocks up his creepiness a notch.
Visual value earns remarkable grades as well. I assume the budget was low although it’s difficult to be certain since so many setpieces play spectacularly. “Assimilate” burns a few blazing fires, crashes a van, and simulates overturning an entire mobile home. Extraordinary mileage comes from the Mississippi shooting location, creating an authentic small town vibe to sell the setting. VOD thrillers almost never look this good. “Assimilate” exhausts every drop of gas in its tank to put together a polished production.
Other than the originality issue, the only complaint I would concede is that pacing could use a kick in the pants. Momentum slows down to light jogs when it should be sprinting, which becomes an intermittent drag on the movie’s energy.
If you can’t get past the obvious aping of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” or choose to dock excessive points as a “ripoff” penalty, then “Assimilate” may make you want to join the negative IMDb voters on principle. Personally, I can’t find any genuinely good reasons to be unnecessarily hard on the film. It’s not going to spawn a franchise. You probably won’t watch it more than once. But “Assimilate” outplays 75% of Syfy’s regular programming. Set expectations to a similar frequency and you’ll find that the film is a fine contemporary remake of “Body Snatchers” that’s highly accessible for young adult audiences.
Review Score: 70