Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: GRABBERS Is Classic Creature Feature Goodness

I have an unabashed love of the creature feature sub-genre of horror. Gremlins and Tremors are legitimate classics, and Critters and Ghoulies are wicked bits of guilty fun. Sadly, the genre seems to have peaked almost two decades ago, and thanks to an influx of deplorable SyFy (pronounced Sif-ee in my house) movies and direct-to-video garbage, it looked like no one would ever treat the sub-genre with the respect and sincere levity it deserves. And then, along comes Grabbers (always pluralize your title) to prove me wonderfully wrong. It manages to hit all the high points you'd expect while still creating it's own unique twists, and most importantly, it's a hell of a good time.

A small island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by a wave of tentacled vampiric beasties, and it's up to alcoholic police officer O'Shea (Richard Coyle) and his new deputy Lisa Nolan (the drop dead gorgeous Ruth Bradley) to figure out what's going on and protect the town. However, when they find out the creatures are allergic to alcohol, the only way to keep everyone safe is to get the whole town together in the local pub and get properly smashed.

That conceit alone leads to plenty of well-earned laughs, but it's unfair to the film to boil it down to just that one bit. There's plenty of humor before the drunkenness takes effect, and it's all anchored down by an amazingly believable cast of characters. The problem with most modern day monster flicks is that the actors know they are in a B-movie (most don't even qualify as that nowadays) and act accordingly: bad. The cast of Grabbers feel like real people thrown into a ridiculous situation and that's what makes these kinds of movies work. Across the board, every character works. The two leads, O'Shea and Nolan, have great chemistry and their scenes together give the film real heart and soul. None of the supporting cast feel extraneous or under-developed, which is always a danger with this kind of premise. And it should be said that acting drunk is actually incredibly difficult, and no one in the movie feels phony or over the top in that regard.

As far as the creatures are concerned, they are a hoot. They're a Lovecraftian tangle of tentacles that (like the best creatures) seem like they could be actual animals. Naturally, they are a combination of practical and digital effects, and they work extraordinarily well. For as small-scale and low budget this picture is, the creatures come off fantastically. In fact, the entire film looks a lot more high scale than its origins would lead you to believe. That's thanks to director Joe Wright's incredibly professional handiwork, and treating the subject material with the right balance of realism and ridiculousness.

And that's the big thing that makes Grabbers work like gangbusters: the balance in tone. Those insufferable SyFy movies that everyone cynically enjoys lean so far into knowing self-parody that it deflates any worthwhile enjoyment from the experience. Grabbers, on the other hand, anchors itself in a realistic way and lets the humor evolve naturally from the characters and their reactions. There's no winking at the camera or painfully obvious gags lobbed at the audience. Instead, there's a sense of "what if this really happened" and that's what separates Grabbers apart: a sensibility that takes itself seriously but allows for natural human comedy to just happen.

You can also tell that the film was made by fans of classic creature features. There are a few sly references thrown around (including an applause worthy Aliens one during the climax) but nothing that comes off as cheap fan-service. It's all integrated seamlessly and never rips you out of the picture, like most referential humor does in films these days. That same fan spirit comes through in the filmmakers' execution of the story: you've seen this scenario played out before and they know it. Instead of trying to subvert the genre (which is insanely difficult to pull off well), they play to its strengths and show that the formula can still work when you have committed people at the helm.

As far as creature features go, Grabbers is a bonafide classic. It's heartfelt and genuine, with plenty of humor to draw in those who might be turned off by its horror roots. It has lovable and relatable characters, wonderful effects work and a sense of honest revelry and respect for the sandbox it's playing in. Most of all, it feels like it was made and executed by people who not only gave a damn, but wanted to give the best damn they could. It's a perfect movie to watch with a bunch of like-minded friends while you guzzle down your choice of brew. It joins the ranks alongside Tremors, Critters and Gremlins as a light-hearted and fun helping of monster madness. I hope it gets a deserved sequel, just like its fellow films received. I want more Grabbers!

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