I grew up in the 1980s. The first film I saw in a theater was E.T. The first horror films that I remember seeing were Gremlins and Critters. Perhaps these things explain my propensity for watching just about any Creature Feature that I can get my hands on. Unfortunately, with today’s push for gritty realism in horror, we don’t get as many movies with rubber monsters and guys in suits as we used to. Most of the films that hit theaters seem to resemble Saw more than Tremors. Well, luckily that is not the case with Grabbers , a fun UK/Ireland co-production that serves as a nice callback to the days when monster movies ruled the theater.
Grabbers tells the story of a remote island off the coast of Ireland that finds itself being invaded by bloodsucking alien creatures from the sea. As it turns out, these creatures are allergic to alcohol, which ironically enough, means that the best way to avoid being eaten by the creatures is get properly hammered. As it turns out, this works in the favor of several of the island’s citizens, including the local law officer, Ciarán O’Shea (played by Richard Coyle) who, in addition to being one of the only officers on the island, has what could politely be referred to as a huge drinking problem. As O’Shea starts to become privy to what’s going on, he finds himself teaming with his new female officer (Ruth Bradley), the town’s snooty scientist (Russell Tovey), and an aging fisherman (Lalor Roddy) who also likes to hit the bottle. With a large storm approaching, it’s up to this unlikely team to round up the island’s citizens and try to save them from the monsters in the only way they know of: Getting them drunk.
Director Jon Wright manages to take what could be a rather ridiculous premise and pulls it off rather nicely. Blending humor into a genre film is tricky, as you are dealing with two elements that have the potential to go horribly awry. In this case, Wright never takes the silly elements of the film, or the slapstick, too far. He doesn’t play things completely straight, and there are some obvious winking-at-the-audience moments and homages to previous genre fare, but he manages to avoid going over the top, like so many other filmmakers do with this kind of material. Because of this, I totally get the comparison that some people are making between this movie and Tremors, a great film and another movie that walks the line between playful and serious.
Like Tremors, Grabbers benefits greatly from its cast. The two leads, Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley, are particularly good. There is a bit of a romantic storyline worked in throughout the film, and their interactions really help to sell it. I’m not ashamed to admit that I knew Coyle from his work on the UK television show, Coupling, which eventually was semi-adapted into the huge American show, Friends. Like his character in that show, he does a great job portraying a guy who is both awkward in his dealing with women and subtlety humorous. Bradley plays off of him nicely, and she is immensely likeable. In many ways, though, Laylor Roddy steals the scenes as Paddy, the drunk fisherman who initially discovers the monsters. He has some very funny lines in the film, and his reaction to the situation is quite amusing.
I also have to give the filmmakers props for their use of special effects. Even though there is quite a bit of digital work in the film, almost all of it looked great. When dealing with movies that feature giant alien monsters destroying buildings, CGI can be distracting when done poorly. In this case, it was done properly, and the creature design is not only impressive, but well-realized considering the budget of the film. The monsters are detailed and blend in with the rest of the visuals very well, and there is a sufficient amount of slime and decapitated heads to go around. However, you should note that this is not a gory film, so those looking for blood and guts only may want to continue their search elsewhere.
Grabbers uses the old Jaws trick and avoids showing too much of the monsters until later in the film. While I am fine with that concept, and I realize that it is partially done for budgetary reasons, it does lead me to the one area that I would complain about, if forced to. That issue is that the first 20-30 minutes or so of the film are kind of slow. I know that it’s because they are taking time to set up the island and its characters, but even at a running time of only 94 minutes, it felt a tad long. In the end, this is only a very minor gripe, though, as the time is spent on some good character development. Maybe it’s just my enthusiasm for monster films that makes me want the aliens to show up sooner, but I think 5-10 minutes could have been trimmed from the film, and it wouldn’t have hurt.
In the end, I have to say that I really enjoyed Grabbers, and I give a solid recommendation. Fans of monster movies will likely find a lot to enjoy here, and this is also a movie that I think would play well with folks who only dabble in the genre here and there. It’s not scary, but it is a hell of a fun time, with some great humor to go with its slime covered creepy crawlies. If you get the chance, you should definitely see this with an audience, but if it doesn’t wind up playing at a festival near you, IFC Midnight has picked it up for distribution, so I wager that you will get a chance to see it On-Demand or pick it up on video in the near future.
Custom Images and Graphics created by Frank Browning