Grabbers is a fascinating little premise, executed in a delightfully quirky and off-kilter manner. Very much an affectionate homage to classic creature features (you can spot Night of the Living Dead playing in the background of one early scene), director Jon Wright and writer Kevin Lehane are sure to give the story a delightfully stereotypical Irish twist. While the Americans might defeat a potentially hostile alien invasion with moral certitude and superior firepower, or the the British might best those otherworldly monsters with a stoic stiff upper lip, the inhabitants of the even stereotypically named “Erin Island” take on their visitors using the sheer unmitigated power of the pub lock-in.
It’s a premise that could easily collapse under its own weight, or become one joke extended well past the point of hilarity, but it’s to the credit of Wright, Lehane and the cast that it flies through its hour-and-a-half runtime.
There’s a delightfully wry sense of self-deprecation running through Grabbers, something that perhaps excuses its dependency on that most classical of Irish stereotypes. After all, this is a monster movie where or protagonists hope to survive by simply making themselves poisonous to the alien creature rampaging across their island. There’s no gung-ho response here, no especially long-term planning, or stirring derring-do. The best we can really hope is that we might poison the monster who decides to feed on us. (I’m only being slightly flippant when I suggest that this might say more about the national character than anything involving the consumption of massive amounts of alcohol.)
If the movie were less charming, it might be harder to forgive it for leaning on the archetypal image of the drunken Irishman to power the plot. However, the script and direction are sharp enough that it never really becomes an issue. The cast are also fun an engaging enough that it’s wonderfully amusing to watch them flailing around. In particular, lead actress Ruth Bradley makes an impressively hilarious drunkard.
The movie does fault a bit with its two lead actors. Both Bradley and actor Richard Coyle both work well independently. However, the script casts the pair as unlikely police partners and possibly more. While both manage to make their characters work in the context of the film, they don’t really have the sort of casual repartee that one expects from a potentially romantic leading pair. While it’s easy to see the couple learning to respect and get along with each other, the inevitable romantic sub-plot feels a little awkward and forced. Still, aside from that, the cast do a wonderful job. The supporting cast is well rounded out, with special mention due to Lalor Roddy as the island’s drunk and David Pearse as the world-weary tavern-owner.
Russell Tovey also does a great job as a delightfully smarmy British marine biologist. While the Irish cast all delightfully play up to the national stereotypes as raging alcoholics, Tovey’s character plays up the stereotype of an Englishman in Ireland, constantly belittling and frowning upon the antics of his fellow islanders while doing little productive. After one of the lead character makes an admittedly short-sighted decision that backfires horribly, Tovey’s biologist snidely comments, “You really are so Irish, aren’t you?” He’s patronising and condescending to the natives. When one character asks if the gutted beach whale is dead, the biologist replies, “No, she’s only sleeping.”
Grabbers is at its best playing with the two distinctive sets of clichés and stereotypes one associates with both rural Ireland and monster movies. In one of the film’s best scenes, the two investigating officers visit the local doctor with the severed head of a victim, looking to determine what might have possible done it. “A tiger?” the doctor hazards a guess, clearly wondering why his fellow islanders somehow assume he’s been granted mystical forensic skills. “I’m a country doctor, for @!~$ sake. I don’t see this sort of thing everyday!”
Grabbers moves along rather briskly, and I think that’s part of the appeal. It never overstays its welcome – and it never overplays its hand. Jon Wright clearly harbours a great deal of affection for the classic monster movie tropes, and they are in full force here. It’s chock full of all manner of quintessential genre moments.
There’s that time the creature is dead… mostly. There’s the attack with the creature hidden from view. There’s the sudden reveal of something at the window. There’s even a climactic confrontation in a rock quarry, recalling the campy British science-fiction serials like Doctor Who. The movie even gets its own drunken slant on the iconic “get away from her you b!tch” line from Aliens at the climax.
It’s not an especially bold reimagining or reworking of these monster tropes. It doesn’t represent as astute an exploration of the genre as, say, Shaun of the Dead. Instead, it feels like an affectionate homage that relishes the inherent silliness of the set-up, kind of like Tremors. There’s never a scene quite as suspenseful as the wonderful bouncing sequence from that film, but the mood is quite similar. There’s the sense of a rather unconventional community dealing with a rather conventional threat.
(While Tremors declined to provide a definitive origin, Grabbers does – but remains delightfully indifferent to the details. The opening shot reveals the source of the creature, but we never learn why or how they came here – or where exactly they came from. All that matters, as in Tremors, is the fact that they are here now, and this small rural community has to find a way of dealing with them.)
The film looks really good – the special effects are handled very well for what I imagine must have been a moderately-budgeted film. I think that Christian Henson’s score is occasionally a little bit overwhelming. It works well for establishing an atmosphere evoking those cheesy old-fashioned monster movies (and I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Irish film that sounds quite like it), but it doesn’t have a subtle register. It’s always very clearly there, and occasionally doesn’t blend perfectly with the scene in question.
Still, director Jon Wright has done a rather wonderful job with this affectionate homage to classic monster movies, delivered with a wry Irish twist. It’s certainly worth a look for anybody with an interest in either Irish films or in a nice old-fashioned alien invasion. It’s the kind of quirky Irish film that I’m occasionally partial to, and I think it’s wonderful to see films like this being made.