Oftentimes, this reviewer laments the overuse of CGI. For example, it was the CGI that kept me from enjoying any of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies (that, and I could feel myself aging as I watched). All the flying camera angles and busy shots with too many monsters to count bored me. I’m not joking. I found it tedious. I fell asleep during the first film, and gave only cursory glances to the sequels; just long enough for me to confirm that, yes, there was still too much CGI in those films, as well. The biggest problem I have with CGI is that, to this point in cinematic history, it still does not look real. Many filmmakers are also tempted to defy physics when it comes to CGI, but we humans have an instinctual sense, informed by billions of years of evolution, of how objects should move. Defy that with CGI, and it only serves to take me further out of the experience, not closer.
But, without modern CGI, I’m not sure a film like Grabbers could have been made. At the least, it would look different. All those big budget blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and The Avengers, etc., have helped to refine the craft of computer-generated special effects. They’ve also helped to lower the cost. So, when a director with a sense of restraint, such as Grabbers’ director Jon Wright, has a miniscule budget, he can turn to CGI to render the monster in his monster flick, and it looks good.
Grabbers takes place on a sparsely populated Irish island. What the place lacks for in trees, it makes up for in spectacular scenery. In real life, I imagine the place is just crawling with American tourists (hi, Mom!), but, for the purposes of this film, it’s a lonely locale, whose entire population can fit inside a single pub. This is important, because the town is being plagued by a gigantic bloodsucking monster from outer space — a creature to whom alcohol is deadly. So, in order to keep from becoming the monster’s next meal, the islanders must get rip-roaring drunk and turn their blood into poison.
The heroes of this flick are the local constabularies, O’Shea and Nolan (Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley). The two of them are a typical odd couple cop pairing. O’Shea is a drunk, while Nolan is a striver, looking to climb the career ladder. Together, the two of them must save the island from a monster that looks like a starfish crossed with about half a dozen octopi. Pay close attention, and a viewer will notice it even has a protruding set of eyes that follow people around. Creepy.
Grabbers is one of those films that is stuffed full of local flavor, and is fully aware of that fact. By that, I mean there’s a whole lot drinking, barely intelligible accents, and it’s all portrayed with a gigantic wink and a nod. I don’t know how the Irish regard their stereotypes, but in this film, they are played for laughs. Whether or not foreign viewers such as myself are laughing with or laughing at is a matter of debate, but the dark humor aspects of this film are indispensable to its success, so…moot point? Wright used the humor to develop his film’s characters. Too many horror flicks miss the importance of character development, just throwing in hot people who can’t act and leaning on action and scares to carry the film. That’s lazy filmmaking. Wright showed his skills as a filmmaker, not just in developing the characters, but in making it so seamless with the story that viewers won’t even notice. It also helps that the film’s ensemble doesn’t feature a stinker in any role. Everyone in this film can act.
Despite all my praise, Grabbers is not a perfect film. But it is good enough that the moments of cliché scattered here and there are more homage to creature features of the past than anything else. When one of the island’s few residents turns out to be a scientist with expository knowledge important for audience comprehension, I think back to all the scientist characters that Roger Corman and Bert I. Gordon employed to explain the plot to the audience. They used those devices because they couldn’t be bothered with being clever. Wright does it because, well, there can’t be a giant monster flick without a scientist. That’s just crazy talk.
Grabbers is an excellent monster movie, and a good film in its own right.