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Sundance Review: 'Grabbers'
Midnight creature featured needed to be better... or worse
Over the years, I've found that in the wacky world of Sundance Midnight Movies, there's a strange and counter-intuitive logic of quality.
"Good" always means "good." But sometimes "bad" means "good" and sometimes it just means "bad," an evaluation that has to be made on a case-by-case and person-by-person basis, because one man's crap is another man's camp.
Yes, quality is fungible when it comes to Midnight movies, but one thing I know for sure: There's absolutely nothing worse for a Midnight movie than being "OK."
In an ideal world, Jon Wright's "Grabbers" could stand to be a lot better, but I'd just as soon see it be a lot worse. In its current form, "Grabbers" is just plain average.
And where's the fun in that?
Full review of "Grabbers" after the break...
Set on Erin Island off the coast of Ireland, "Grabbers" begins with a mysterious object crashing into bay. We don't know where the object arrived from or what it really was, but it seems to have contained a hungry creature with tentacles and an appetite for blood.
When mauled whales begin washing up on shore and then humans begin disappearing, it's time for the local police to take charge, led by melancholic alcoholic Ciaran O'Shea (Richard Coyle) and Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley), who has just arrived in town for reasons that couldn't be less relevant. They're assisted by local scientist Smith (Russell Tovey) and hard-drinking fisherman Paddy (Lalor Roddy).
Kevin Lehane's "Grabbers" script is so heavily indebted "Tremors" that he'd be well-served to at least send a bottle of whiskey to that cult classic's writers. I'd say that "Tremors" had a much clearer sense of its tone, characters and location, though. "Grabbers," for its part, has only one truly inspired idea: The creatures have an aversion to high blood-alcohol levels, which makes it convenient for humanity that their first port of call was... IRELAND. Yes, the Irish enjoy their drinking. It's a good idea, alas, that goes almost nowhere, paying off only with the townspeople having to throw a jovial party to survive.
With the multi-talented Richard Coyle leading the cast, "Grabbers" had the flexibility to lean toward either humor or drama, but it ends up falling short on both counts. There aren't a dozen actors out there with Coyle's spectacular comic timing and cadences, but the "Coupling" veteran has no dialogue that he's able to parlay into laughter. And when he's asked to be dramatic or heartfelt, as with the character's relationship with Bradley's Nolan, it's almost like the writers figured the romance was so implausible there was no point even attempting to connect the dots.
The decision to give anybody in the cast serious or semi-serious material wasn't an especially good one. In fact, the hour of the film in which most of the cast is sober begins to feel like a real waste when Ruth Bradley and Russell Tovey get drunk and suddenly become likable. And this wasn't a case of us needing to get to know the characters sober in order to appreciate them drunk. I think was just a case of the filmmakers deciding the first half of the movie had to be dedicated to characters we didn't care about being yanked off-screen by an unseen monster. The over-reliance on rote tentacle grab-and-drags leads to a distinct lack of scares in the first half of the movie, leaving "Grabbers" a bit purposeless. "Tremors" is scary. "Gremlins" is scary. That somehow makes both films even funnier. "Grabbers" isn't scary and so the desired contrast of tones never emerges. It takes too long for the movie to enjoy itself and when it isn't enjoying itself, why would the audience enjoy it?
Once we start to see more and more of the creatures in the movie's second half, we see that they're Wacky WallWalkers with razor-rectum faces and sometimes that's cool, but mostly nobody has the money for us to see the full-sized grabbers. Instead, we see that grabbers have cute babies, which sounds like it might be racist, but it really isn't. Totally cute grabber babies, but totally no payoff for cute grabber babies. Like everything in "Grabbers," the effects are too good to laugh at them and not good enough to be scared by them.
Because Drew McWeeny has been knocking the Midnight Movies out of the park this Sundance, I've only been checking out reactions via reviews and Twitter for the most part. Everybody seems to have hated "The Pact." "V/H/S" produced positive buzz and then overblown hype about mass faintings. "Black Rock" has some fans and it also made some people angry. I've been assured that "John Dies In The End" and "Excision" are both crazy and destined to be cult classics. Those are the responses that Sundance Midnight Movies are supposed to get. As for "Grabbers"? Meh. And that's a kiss of midnight death.