Next we meet Matthew Bennell (Sutherland), a Health Inspector giving a snooty French restaurant the white glove treatment. The bisque fails the test: there is a rat turd in it. Matthew calls Elizabeth, his friend and co-worker at the San Francisco Department of Health, and cajoles her into coming in early the next morning to conduct salmonella tests on the turd. Elizabeth grudgingly agrees, then hangs up the phone and curls up in bed next to Geoffrey- and the alien pod flower, which is sitting in a glass of water on their nightstand.
The next morning, Elizabeth heads into work at the Department of Public Health, past an affable banjo-playing hobo and his pet dog, a boxer. In the office, Elizabeth mentions to Matthew that Geoffrey's behavior was odd that morning. Matthew is sympathetic, but when a co-worker shows up with a rat caught on the premises of the snooty French restaurant, Matthew's attention is swiftly diverted.
That evening, Geoffrey's behavior is definitely still off: not only has he made mysterious and vague 'plans' over the phone, but he has given away his tickets to that night's Warriors game. Elizabeth heads over to Matthew's house, where he cooks dinner and listens to her concerns. Through the thickening sexual tension, he suggests she accompany him to a reading given by a friend and noted local psychiatrist, Dr. David Kibner (Nimoy).
The next morning, Matthew drops off his dry cleaning. The proprietor, thinking Matthew is a doctor, asks him for help, saying that his wife is just "...wrong." Matthew comes away from the encounter disconcerted. On his way to work, he once again passes the banjo-player, whose name we learn is Harry, and his dog, who is only referred to as "Pooch." He runs into Elizabeth, who is increasingly distressed over Geoffrey's odd behavior.
They head towards Dr. Kibner's reading, Matthew joking along the way to lighten Elizabeth's mood. At a stoplight, a terrified man (Kevin McCarthy, lead of the 1956 film) throws himself on the car, shouting "they're coming!" and "save yourself!" before running off again, pursued by a mob of people. Shaken, Matthew and Elizabeth turn the corner once the light changes, to find the man dead, surrounded by the impassively staring mob and a couple of policemen. At the reading, they meet up with Matthew's friend Jack Bellicec (Goldblum), a struggling author who runs a bath house with his wife Nancy (Cartwright), and witness a woman frantically insisting to Dr. Kibner that her husband has, overnight, become an imposter.
After the reading, Jack returns to his bath house and sets up on one of the massage tables to take a nap. Nancy, doing her rounds, makes a horrific discovery with what appears to be some sort of humanoid corpse on one of the other massage tables. It begins to open its eyes, but as soon as Nancy's scream wakes Jack, the eyes quickly close again. Matthew is called to investigate, and noting the corpse's resemblance to Jack, rushes to Elizabeth's house with a sinking feeling.
He finds her asleep in bed with a pod person growing next to her in the en suite terrarium (the 70s were a hell of a time). He wakes her, rushing her to safety, but when the authorities arrive, the pod person has mysteriously disappeared. Now in full freak-out mode, Matthew bands together Elizabeth, Jack, and Nancy. They meet with a skeptic Dr. Kibner and attempt to explain what they saw. It's a crazy story- crazier even than the archery glove Kibner is randomly wearing on his left hand throughout the conversation. But Kibner knows Matthew well, and believes him. Unfortunately, Kibner believes Matthew because he is already a pod person!
That evening, the foursome stick together at Matthew's North Beach apartment. Predictably, as they doze off, pods begin to grow on Matthew's patio with the intent of displacing their human forebears. Nancy wakes them in the nick of time, and Matthew calls for help on the phone. The group realizes, all at once, that they are outnumbered and at the center of a conspiracy- "they're all a part of it," Nancy says. Chased by a mob of angry pod people, they escape through the backyard, but not before Matthew bashes his own (pod) face in with a garden hoe.
They run towards the bay, where, trapped, the two couples split up in the hopes of evading their alien aggressors. Matthew and Elizabeth end up returning to their workplace near City Hall, where Matthew stomps upon and ruins the pod growing the replacements of Harry and Pooch. While hiding inside the Health Department, they ride the swell of their chemistry and kiss. After a short nap in the lab, they wake to see, through the window, a gigantic pod distribution project going on at Civic Center Plaza.
Suddenly, they are confronted by Jack and Dr. Kibner's replacements, who explain the aliens' provenance as well as their need to take over the humans' bodies, and encourage Matthew and Elizabeth to embrace the change. Matthew and Elizabeth opt to flee instead, encountering Nancy in the stairwell. Nancy informs them she is able to pass amongst the pod people by affecting an emotionally detached demeanor. They put on masks of impassiveness and attempt to sneak out a side door of the Health Department, only to be corralled into a line to receive pods for further distribution to Bay Area locales. As they queue up, the consequence of Matthew's interference with Harry's and Pooch's pods is revealed: a Harry-faced dog runs up, causing Elizabeth to exclaim in horror. Her reaction immediately exposes them as non-replicants, and an old woman points at Elizabeth and screeches the signal that a non-pod has been found. Matthew socks the old lady in the face, while Nancy plays it cool like she doesn't even know them and blends into the crowd.
Matthew and Elizabeth flee again, pursued by the horrific Harry-faced dog monster and a crowd of bloodthirsty pod people, straight onto the back of a departing truck. The truck, unfortunately, is heading back to a giant dockside greenhouse where the pods are being cultivated en masse. Elizabeth and Matthew jump off the truck and hide in the swampy marshlands near the greenhouse. Matthew feels hope for escape when he spies a ship; those hopes are dashed when he runs up and sees the ship is being loaded with pods for exports abroad. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has succumbed to sleep. Her double rises, naked, from the reeds nearby and beckons Matthew to join her. He opts to burn down the greenhouse instead.
As he runs from the burning structure, Matthew is pursued by pod people. He hides in a pile of refuse, as one of his pursuers is heard to remark, "We'll get him. He can't stay awake forever."
Suddenly, it is the next day. Matthew walks along Market Street, watching a school bus full of children unload as adults handle pods in a nearby alley. A number of cities up and down the west coast are announced over a loudspeaker for disbursement of pods as Matthew arrives at work and observes Elizabeth and all their colleagues coolly and dispassionately performing their duties. He joins his cohort as they march, as one, outside at the end of the day. He is walking through the English sycamores in front of City Hall when he is stopped by a whisper.
"Matthew?" It is Nancy. She cautiously approaches him, a smirk of mixed optimism and suppressed joy on her face. After a few steps towards him, however, Matthew's cool veneer transforms suddenly, brutally, into a horrifying mask out of which issues the tell-tale screech of the pod person. Nancy screams in terror as she realizes she is the last real human in San Francisco.
At first, I was prepared to snark away- after all, the film's post-credits opening shot is of Elizabeth picking a flower/pod growing in Alamo Square Park and then lightly dashing across the street to one of the infamous Painted Ladies on Steiner Street. Although the term 'Painted Lady' applies to any one of San Francisco's multi-hued, ornately decorated Victorian houses, those on Steiner are particularly emblematic of Postcard San Francisco. Because of their picturesque fame, the Painted Ladies are often portrayed in film and television as being the domiciles of various characters, none of whom could fathomably afford such a residence in real life.
Likewise Matthew's apartment, with its breathtaking view of the bay and the Financial District, especially the imposing Transamerica Pyramid (a recurrent and deliberate theme in Invasion; United Artists was, in 1978, owned by the Transamerica Corp). In the 70s it would have been romantically bohemian, just a stone's throw from the the seedy nightlife of North Beach and within sight of the Russian Hill of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Today, of course, the only thing steeper than the hills on which such homes sit are the prices they command in the contemporary real estate market.
A lot of this film portrays genuine footage of Donald Sutherland (or someone) driving a car through San Francisco in real time. Although the shots are through a cracked windshield, from 37 years ago, and sometimes at night, they're undeniably authentic and give the film's panic the sharp edge of realism. During the scene in which Matthew and Elizabeth head to Dr. Kibner's book party, many blocks of the Tenderloin neighborhood pass by in such a manner as they banter aimlessly in the way of old friends. Likewise, when they later catch a taxi near the intersections of Broadway and Columbus, with instructions to the driver to head to the airport, the taxi heads west and enters the Broadway tunnel in real time, more or less.
The taxi scene forms part of an extended series of seemingly nonsensical movements from Matthew and Elizabeth after they and the Bellicecs flee Matthew's house. At first they flee northwest, further up Telegraph Hill, and then on to Pier 33. Why they specifically head to Pier 33 instead of due east from Matthew's apartment is unexplained. From Pier 33, Elizabeth and Matthew are shown strolling, as casually as possible, down Market street just a stone's throw from their workplace and City Hall. Once they are chased again, they flee to North Beach, just a few blocks from Matthew's apartment, where they catch the taxi. When they flee the taxi, they return to Civic Center and City Hall. On the surface, this portrays a haphazard route through town- from North Beach to the Embarcadero to Civic Center, back to North Beach and then back to Civic Center. But ultimately, given as how Matthew and Elizabeth are seeking some way, any way, to survive or perhaps even to escape, their route doesn't necessarily need to make sense.
Authenticity: 9/10- Wore a Seals cap to opening day at Candlestick Park.
Nightmare scale: 100%- that's how open your eyes will be as you lay awake at night pondering how well you truly know any of your friends or loved ones.
Overall: This movie could be set in Cleveland for all I care; it's engaging and terrifying and the fact that I recognize the background is merely icing on the cake.