Dir. Jon Wright
Written by Kevin Lehane
Starring Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Lalor Roddy
When I tell you the premise of this film is that the residents of a small Irish town discover they have to stay drunk in order to survive an onslaught of bad-tempered but alcohol-averse alien octopi, you’d be right to be skeptical. That’s way too good a premise to actually expect that anyone made an effort with the real movie. It’s the classic NINJAS VS MONSTERS or ZOMBIE STRIPPERS problem. They know they already got you, there’s no way you’re not gonna see a movie about belligerent Irishmen drunk-fighting space squids, so why work up a sweat trying to make it actually good?
But for once, I come ready to tell you that your fears are misplaced! This is a fun, fairly lighthearted little drunks-vs-aliens romp, and it’s actually more of a real movie than I’d assumed it would be. Given the low-hanging fruit of the basic premise, I assumed it would be kinda a goofy throwaway, but actually it’s more of an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, completely devoted to being entertaining but never at the expense of becoming campy parody. It delivers handily on its irresistible high-concept low-brow gimmick, but also aspires to a little more. As should we all.
The basic plot is weirdly similar to LET US PREY, now that I think about it. A young, hyper-competent female rookie cop (Ruth Bradley, Titanic [the 2012 TV series]) arrives at a podunk small-town police precinct and is immediately at odds with the disastrous fuck-up that runs it (Richard Coyle, Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, Renny Harlin’s FIVE DAYS OF WAR), which becomes a problem when the town is unexpectedly gripped by an unlikely danger. Fortunately for her, this guy is just a caustic, barely-functional alcoholic, not the sort to favor barbed wire and shotguns as appropriate fashion accessories, so we know he’s a good guy at heart. They’re gonna have to bond and stuff and learn to respect each other. And while they’re at it, they begin to uncover evidence of a bunch of bloodsucking space squids that have decided to nest in their scenic local beach, eventually coming to the conclusion that their weakness (the aliens’, not the cops, although also the cops) is alcohol, and that the only safe strategy is to gather the entire town in the local bar and get absolutely shitfaced.
It’s a pretty straightforward comedy setup, but it doesn’t play like a straight comedy. It’s closer in tone to GREMLINS or something, an inherently silly plot which still wants and expects you to take the stakes and characters seriously -- but beyond that is more interested in showing you a good time than overwhelming you with grimness or trying to point out how clever and above this it is. I think the GREMLINS comparison feels appropriate because there’s something distinctly Spielbergian about its energetic, humanistic desire to make the whole package enjoyable, not just the money shots. There’s plenty of humor, but most of it comes from the Irish being mordant smartarses to each other, not anarchic alcoholic buffoonery. The movie seems to genuinely care about its characters, and a lot of the humor actually comes from the distinct clash of personalities between broadly drawn but largely sympathetic townsfolk (brought to life with wit and subtle depth by an excellent Bradley and Coyle, leading an ensemble cast of colorful Irish character actors). The film’s final act aptly demonstrates its strong instinct for artfully blending character comedy with the absurd scenario: Coyle’s character, drunk for most of the movie, realizes that he’s the only one so booze-soaked that he can stay relatively sober and still survive; meanwhile, his straightlaced partner has to get shitfaced. It’s a simple and obvious role-reversal, of course, but it also allows both leads to bring out different aspects of their characters, making the finale both a cheerful hoot and an interesting opportunity for Coyle and Bradley to reveal some unexpected depth.
But just because it’s all in good fun, don’t think it’s above throwing some gristly severed heads at you, or letting its titular grabbers perform a ghoulish dance with a human corpse as a puppet. For all its focus on low-key character comedy, it’s still entirely invested in behind a horror film, and delivers an amazing amount of genre goods considering the modest budget. The CG creatures look great, and even manage to develop some real personality, which really does a lot to dispel my usual complaint that the newfangled CG tentacle things they have these days are just busy, overly-complicated masses of limbs which looks like big rolling nerf balls. All these big expensive tentpole movies recently tend to have busy but soulless CG antagonists, but GRABBERS proves that the folly of that design is not inherent in its character, but in the general laziness of execution that you get when you have too much money to spend. These guys have a lot of moxie, and it makes for a much more satisfying conflict.
And it’s not just the aliens that look good; the Irish countryside is surprisingly gorgeous and lushly photographed (it was co-produced by the Irish Film Board, so maybe they demanded it), contributing an unexpected note of class. Not strictly necessary in a drunks-vs-aliens movie, but nonetheless appreciated. Similarly, it also boasts a strong, old-fashioned score with --can you believe it?-- themes and everything, not just droning low tones or overwrought Howard Shore orchestrals. Unfortunately one of those themes has a slight but disastrous resemblance to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” which, once you hear, you will never be able to ignore. But oh well, credit awarded anyway.
One odd thing: the editing is generally fine, but for some reason someone here has a raging hard-on for extended dissolve wipes. It disrupts the rhythm of some funny lines which should end scenes crisply, and generally slows down the pace of the first half in a way which minorly saps the energy just as it ought to be building tension. It’s a minor thing, and disappears mostly by the second half, but it’s so egregious after awhile I can’t help but think someone must have made the choice intentionally. Dad! There are other wipes besides star wipes!
Otherwise, though, this is a real winner, a brisk, entertaining and handsomely crafted crowdpleaser full of outrageous hijinks but also shot through with an honest affection for its flawed, but ultimately good-hearted heroes. At it’s best, that’s what both great movies and great drinking binges will bring you. And should either one run afoul of some mean-tempered blood-sucking cephalopods, well, now we know what to do.
CHAINSAWNUKAH 2016 CHECKLIST!
Good Kill Hunting
Looks like they tried a bunch of different tagline for this one, mostly pretty limp puns about drinking. Fight To The Last Round, Take Your Best Shot, Final Call At The Bar that kind of thing.
They dub the aliens “grabbers,” presumably in homage to TREMORS
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN
Creature Feature / Sci-Fi (?)
BELOVED HORROR ICON?
No, in fact our hero even turns down the advances of a drunk girl while he is sober, good for him.
WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK!
Well, in a sci-fi kind of way.
GHOST/ ZOMBIE / HAUNTED BUILDING?
MORAL OF THE STORY
Alcohol: The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems