Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Movie Review: "Grabbers" by David Pretty

*** Special Sneak Peak Advanced Review ***

Although some folks might argue that there's no such thing as an original idea anymore, sometimes all it takes is a different perspective.  For example, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost set a horde of criminally overused zombies on weaponless, suburban London and the result was transcendental.  Some talented Swedes refashioned a bunch of hoary old vampire tropes into the wildly inventive Let the Right One In.  And now we get Grabbers, which takes a stereotypical bug-eyed monster from space and drops it smack-dab into the middle of a sleepy Irish town on a remote island.

The film's opening shot tracks what appears to be a meteor as it shears into Earth's atmosphere and splashes down just off the coast of Northern Ireland.  This is witnessed by a local fishing trawler which makes the ill-conceived decision to investigate.  As it turns out, the projectile contains something alive, mean-spirited and decidedly...grabby and it soon makes short work of the ship's crew.

Soon an entire pod of pilot whales washes up dead on a nearby beach.  These odd occurrences draw the attention of habitually intoxicated local Garda Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle), his new by-the-book partner Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) and marine biologist Dr. Smith (played by Being Human alum Russell Tovey).  When a local fisherman and professional barfly named Paddy (Lalor Roddy) is inexplicably spared by the creature, our heroes speculate that their otherworldly opponent is deathly allergic to the the taste of pickled villager.

Fearful of an island-wide panic, O'Shea, Nolan and Smith propose a simple and amicable defense: gather everyone together at the local pub for a good bit of crack.  No, not that kind of crack, I'm talking about craic: a rip-roaring communal drunk which will keep everyone blissfully preoccupied whilst rendering them completely unpalatable to the aliens.

Director Jon Wright does an admirable job balancing the humor with the horror.  An extended alien POV curb stomp sequence is riotously funny as is a scene in which our heroes try to get the jump on a creepy-crawly while armed with some spectacularly inept weapons.  This is nicely contrasted with a harrowing and claustrophobic squeeze though a maze of low-tide sea caves and the genuinely loathsome sight of a massive, roiling ball of tentacles bearing down on its slow-moving victim.

Wright also has the luxury of capturing some truly fantastic scenery.  Shot in County Donegal in Northern Ireland, the film is rife with beautiful pastel skies, gorgeous beaches, cool rock formations, majestic cliffs and serpentine roads snaking through treeless hills.  The interiors are also stellar, with Smith's lab, Paddy's hovel and Maher's Pub all looking gloriously practical and lived-in.  All of these unpretentious settings really helps to offset the sometimes-surreal nature of the alien threat.

Speak of the (Denebian Slime) Devil, I really loved the pulpy, slimy, Lovecraftian design of the Grabbers themselves.  Although some of the CGI is a bit creaky at times, the crew does a phenomenal job integrating their creations into cinematic "reality".  For example, when a horde of larval-stage beasties infiltrates the pub, the effects team use a series of in-camera set gags to show the ravages of their digital infestation.  It's so gloriously cartoonish that it conjures up shades of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Gremlins.

Although the film's set up is a tad "color by numbers", the natural performances and salty dialogue really kept me entertained before the main event.  By the time the entire cast is shit-faced, the movie's entertainment value blasts into hyperspace.  This wildly original premise comes pre-loaded with so much comedic potential that you have to wonder why no-one's thought of it before.

Although some people might bellyache about "pointless" story diversions, but I really didn't detect anything particularly egregious.  Although I'd concur that the relationship between Ciarán and Lisa flirts dangerously with convention, I also appreciate that screenwriter Kevin Lehane went through the trouble of giving them backstories and fleshing their characters out a bit.  Most films of this ilk wouldn't even have bothered.

Despite a litany of conventions, the script gets a lot more right then wrong.  I really loved how the character's well-laid plans always seemed to implode.  A makeshift flame thrower completely fizzles.  Lisa's drunken attempt to retrieve the car keys from the bar results in even more peril.  Even the final scheme to destroy the Big Bad goes straight down the tubes.  Anytime a film makes a concerted effort to defy audience expectations you can be sure that I'll be there to recognize.  

A lot of the dialogue sounds completely natural and there are plenty of lines which reflect a uniquely  Irish sense of humor.  I love the scene where Ciarán finally manages to communicate to the pub's owner Brian (David Pearse) just how much booze they're going to need to repel the aliens.  "We're gonna hafta tear ther arse out of her then," the bar-keep begrudgingly admits.

Regardless of how goofy things get, the cast is always there to hold things together.  Despite his character's bout with the bottle, Richard Coyle's performance as Ciarán is actually quite sober and substantial.  He's the sort of protagonist that most audience member can relate to: standing his ground when there's little alternative and making a "strategic withdrawal" whenever possible.  His sly line deliveries and casual asides command your attention while making a compelling case for repeat viewing.

Like a winsome combination of Anna Paquin, Kate Winslet and Dolores O'Riordan, Ruth Bradley has a charmingly unique presence that's all her own.  She plays buckled down and uptight so well that her booze-fueled turn in the second half is downright revelatory.  She seems so genuinely blitzed that I suspect she pulled a fast one and just took belts from a whiskey bottle between takes.  She's also fun to watch in a heroic capacity, nail-gunning a critter's gob shut and spouting lines that would make Ellen Ripley beam with pride.

Sometimes Russell Tovey can be a tad shrill and over-wrought, and this tendency creeps into her performance, especially when he's called upon to be plastered or terrified (or sometimes both!).  He's really at his best when he plays Smith as a pompous know-it-all who flirts awkwardly with Lisa.  In this capacity, Tovey makes for an effective wince-inducing goofball who's still charming enough to make the audience root for his survival.

There are plenty of memorable minor performances in the film as well.  Lalor Roddy is wonderful as the eternally-soused grizzled contrarian Paddy.  David Pearse as Brian the bar owner is amusingly skeptical at first, but becomes downright gung-ho after he's convinced that the threat is real.  Also making the most out of her screen time is the always-sassy Bronagh Gallagher (of Commitments fame), who plays Brian's wife Una.  Between her impish efforts to play matchmaker for Lisa and Ciarán and her borderline chronic skepticism, Bronagh is a real delight to watch.

One of the highest compliments that I can give to a film is that I want to see it again.  Between missing out on a joke because I was laughing so hard at the previous one, trying to pick up on a throw-away line of dialogue or sifting through the occasional brogue-heavy delivery, I would love to see Grabbers again.  I'm willing to wager that the tiny scraps that got by me here are more entertaining then what's  served up in your average creatively destitute Hollywood horror flick.

 Tilt: up.

P.S. Grabbers is set for a wide release in the latter half of 2012.

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