Toronto After Dark Film Fest Opening Gala Screening: Grabbers [Review]
Toronto After Dark Film Festival kicked off its 7th year with Opening Gala Film “Grabbers” and Canadian short “Not ‘Til We’re Married”. The evening kicked off with Festival Director Adam Lopez’s fantastic introduction to the festival hyping the already excited audience for that night’s films and the week long festival ahead.
Shannon Rae Hanmer, director of “Not ‘Til We’re Married”, was in attendance to give a brief introduction to her film, a cautionary tale of internet dating featuring a very creepy puppet with salad in his teeth (ick!). “Not ‘Til We’re Married” was written by TAD-alum Chris Nash, and Hanmer pulled of the 8minute short for about $200.
On to the main event.
Directed by Jon Wright, starring Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Grabbers is exactly the fun monster flick you expect it to be. Set on an isolated Irish island, “Grabbers” follows in the footsteps of many small town British comedies (a sub-genre that includes Keeping Mum, Blow Dry, and TADFF favourite Edgar Wight’s Hot Fuzz) that mine much of their humour from an eclectic cast of locals and the fish-out-of-water outsider. In the case of Grabbers there are two new elements introduced to Erin Island, the metaphor is slightly more literal for one than the other.
Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) arrives on the island to temp at the side of semi-functioning alcoholic Garda Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle) around the same time a mysterious vampiric alien monster water creature falls down to earth into the waters surrounding Erin Island attacking whales and townspeople alike. Early in the film Nolan predicts, “It’s always the quiet places where the mad shit happens”, a statement far more prophetic than she was counting on.
The first half of the film circles around the discovery of the creatures and the slow disappearance of fisherman. The brilliantly cheesy score punctuates the action, creating suspense as it anticipates each attack and prompting the audience reaction as fishermen are pulled from the shore, dropped from rooftops, or a woman is pulled up a chimney leaving behind only her pink fuzzy slippers. Meanwhile, Nolan, O’Shea, Dr. Smith (the resident marine ecologist played by Russell Tovey) and Paddy, the town drunk who captured one of these sea monsters put the pieces together and discover the monster’s Achilles heal, a fatal allergy to alcohol. This is where the film really gets fun. In a small Irish town, combating blood sucking sea creatures with an alcohol allergy, the solution is exactly what you might think. A major piss-up in the town’s sole Inn & Pub.
Keeping the townspeople in the dark about the impending doom becomes increasingly difficult as the small team assembled to fight the monsters (which now includes the Brian, the innkeeper) become increasingly inebriated, for the good of the cause of course. The party with the free-bar is a fantastic showcase of the eclectic locals set to a smashing soundtrack as they drink, dance and joke around. I would have loved to see more of these strong personalities more thoroughly incorporated into the plot, the quirky humour brings a lot to these sections of the film. Eventually Garda Nolan lets the secret slip and all hell breaks loose as the storm gets worse and the monsters made stronger by water begin launch a strong attack.
This is where it gets especially weird. With alcohol running dry and the townspeople at risk of sobering up they are all in greater danger – everyone bands together to attempt to fight the sea monsters and it is a very fun, very wild, very drunken ride.
Wright is very playful with the camera including some fantastic whirling, circular shots on the beach. He also makes very liberal use of point-of-view shots and handheld cameras, these are particularly effective following the very drunk characters around the pub as they make their valiant attempts to do such tasks as getting off the floor, opening a door, and even getting down a flight of stairs which Garda Nolan very gracefully tumbled down. One of my favourite fun camera angles was a low-shot looking up at the faces of Garda Nolan, Garda O’Shea, and Dr. Smith as they attack the baby sea monster on the floor of the lab. Their frantic faces as they attempt to kill this strange creature are absolutely fantastic.
Some great visual gags in the film include the choice of weapons ranging from a small knife, a chair, and a rolled up magazine, to a non-functioning makeshift flamethrower fashioned out of a supersoaker. It’s the little things like acknowledging the kind of weapons these people would actually have access too, such as whole lot of booze and some very potent moonshine, that really makes a difference.
Tovey is always a treat, he brings an excellent sense of humour and physicality to Dr. Adam Smith. We first meet him on the beach as he hops over dead whales cracking jokes at Ciarán’s expense while leaning in to flirt with a receptive Garda Nolan. He fights a loosing battle to give the creatures a scientific name, something about vamptrotoothid and finally concedes to the popular choice, grabber. His face while stomping on the baby sea monster simultaneously terrified and mourning the lost scientific discovery is a thing of beauty. He is a hilarious drunk as he stumbles out of the bar attempting the role of hero, taunting the enormous creature that his blood is poison, before being flicked across the town like a mosquito. We will miss you Dr. Smith, the marine ecologist, not psychologist thank you very much.
It was only the romance angle that didn’t quite work for me. The cute, yet slightly awkward flirting between Garda Nolan and Dr. Smith while Ciarán looked on partly annoyed and partly jealous was a great play for laughs. However, late in the film this funny triangle of affections turned into a strangely misplaced love story. I just can’t believe that Lisa, a reasonably confident woman, would go from incredibly not interested in Ciarán to still being into him after a very drunken night, where very drunken feelings were admitted (the drunken feelings I can believe). Going hand in hand with Lisa’s [flip], I can hardly believe that a barely functioning alcoholic has no problem knocking the bottle for a pretty girl and a vicious monster, it was a little too tidy and even in a ridiculous creature feature, beyond the scope of reasonable suspense of disbelief. In all, if the shoe-horned ridiculous romance is the biggest problem, it’s really not so bad.
The end leaves the possibility open for a a Grabbers 2. If this happens I would love to see Tovey reprise his role as Dr. Smith. We didn’t actually see the body so it’s still fair game… right?