More than anything, Netflix exists for me to find movies like GRABBERS.
I’m in the process of putting together my next book of reviews (here’s the last one), which will be called SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY MOVIES, 2011-2013. My goal is to be as realistically complete as possible. There’s no way I can watch and review everything from everywhere without having a ridiculously big book (right now, I’m at 50 reviews totaling about 85,000 words, with at least another 20 reviews to do). My focus has largely been on A-movies and quality B-movies instead of every old B- and Z-movies that gets released (I’m planning to release another book at some point focusing on them), and when I hit play on GRABBERS this afternoon, I had thought it would be more in line for the latter than the former based on everything I knew about it (which amounted to the Netflix cover and description).
Instead, what I got was a rather perfect 94 minutes of a really enjoyable horror-comedy that manages to make a completely silly premise come off as believable. The script (by Kevin Lehane) is sharply written and the acting and directing remind me of the best of the old Tom Baker Doctor Who – the premise might seem silly but if you play it serious, the audience will follow.
Irish Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) is a super serious young cop who’s decided to spend her two weeks vacation filling in on a small island. The only other cop is Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), who is perpetually either drunk, hungover, or getting drunk. Of course, they dislike each other at first, and of course, they end up together in the end. Conventions of time force the relationship to escalate quicker than it should, but even though the film has to press fast forward on O’Shea’s interest in Lisa, once we get there, the evolution of his feelings for her are played beautifully. There’s the awkward drunken semi-confession/statement of interest, the understated jealousy of, and feelings of inferiority towards the young Dr. Smith (Russell Tovey), and his over-protectiveness towards her. Over the course of the film, Coyle (who is excellent here) makes me believe in his re-awakening as a person and a cop.
There’s nothing overly complex about it. Because he’s always drunk at the start of the film and Lisa isn’t, you can certainly see it coming that at some point he’s going to be the sober one and she’s going to be the drunk one, by Lehane and director Jon Wright doing a great job of inverting those roles and those character arcs.
Things start to get weird on the island when a group of pilot whales ends up dead on the shore. We know what the characters don’t – that a meteor crashed into the ocean and bad things started happening – but the film quickly catches the characters up to speed. What’s nice is that before they meet one of the monsters that experienced drunk Declan Cooney (Ned Dennehy) discovers and names “grabbers,” the film establishes its dramatic foundations. During this opening act, it allows us to get comfortable with O’Shea and Nolan so we’re ready to ride along with them through the craziness.
The most impressive aspect of GRABBERS is how well the filmmakers balance the drama, the horror, and the comedy. GRABBERS is not a particularly scary movie – it’s horror is firmly rooted in the giant 1950s monster genre – nor is it particularly hilarious. Horror comedies often favor one side over the other, and that side is almost always the comedic, because comedy doesn’t cost money. Big giant tentacle monsters do cost money, and if filmmakers preference the silliness, it allows them and the audience to have a big, giant wink over the less-than-stellar CGI.
With GRABBERS, though, I get the sense that this is much more a dramedy than a horror comedy. I don’t mean that it’s a show where people alternate weeping and laughing, but rather than it’s obvious the filmmakers wanted to make a good movie first and foremost. The CGI is actually really well done, and there’s plenty of moments to make you giggle and not pretend we’re watching SILAS MARNER WITH A MONSTER, but with Coyle and Nolan at the center, and Smith lying just beyond that point, GRABBERS is mostly a film about a drunk who gets better, a straight edge who loosens up, and a monster than can’t kill anyone if they’re drunk.
Yeah, the premise of GRABBERS is ridiculously awesome. The creatures need two things to survive: water and blood. They can get the water from the ocean and from the rain, but they need living things for blood. It’s curious as to why they prefer humans to whales, given how much larger whales are, but that would be a different kind of movie. As it is, the monsters come ashore and start attacking people, only they can’t kill the really drunk ones because that blood has been poisoned with beer and liquor.
Not wanting to alert the town to the danger of an oceanic monster coming ashore to eat them (a monster, I might add, that looks very much like one of the monsters I created for HARPSICHORD AND THE WORMHOLE WITCHES, so I was instantly on board with how awesome this Grabber was), O’Shea interrupts church service to attempt to convince the townsfolk to head to Maher’s Pub for a big party. The idea is to get everyone drunk on the sly, and it’s a really fun and clever twist to the formula. The church folk aren’t really feeling it until O’Shea announces all the drinks are on the house.
The small group of confidants proceed to get everyone drunk as they watch out for the creature and its offspring, and there’s plenty of action and jumping and falling until we get to the big, explosive finish that reminded me of 1 part Trick ‘r Treat, 1 part Aliens.
I won’t overstate things and argue that GRABBERS is as good as either of those two movies, but it’s not that far away, either. GRABBERS is the kind of movie that always replenishes my faith in cinema – it’s a smart movie with a good premise, it’s got professionals contributing all across the board, and it wants to be a good film. It wants you to take it seriously enough that it’s not just a cheap laugh. Movies like GRABBERS and Attack the Block don’t have a Hollywood budget, but they more than make up for that with a heaving helping of smarts and professionalism.
If you’ve been kicking around the Anxiety for any length of time, you know that I like to call what I do “reactions” instead of “reviews” because I watch a movie and then write about the parts that strike me as worth talking about. I do not write these reactions/reviews to try and get you to see or not see a movie. I don’t like it when people read my review and then say, “Sorry, I’m going to see it, anyway.” Awesome. I’m not trying to save you money by doing this, I’m trying to give you my side of the conversation. Every so often, though, an overlooked or smaller movie comes along (like Trick ‘rTreat, Attack the Block, Bounty Killer) that I will trumpet a bit.
GRABBERS is one of those movies. Go hit play on the Netflix; this is a good way to spend 94 minutes.