I have had a love-hate relationship with Ireland and the Irish, in particular how they’ve been presented in film. For decades they were the lovable, amiable drunken stereotypes who’d pal around with John Wayne, get into fierce but bloodless fights and say, “Sure’n begorrah”, whatever the fuck a begorrah is. I lived in Belfast for ten years and never saw a begorrah. The depiction of the country always got my goat, too; until a few years ago, 99% of people thought Ireland was all rolling green hills and thatched cottages and sheep-fucking simpletons. Nowadays, of course, that amount has dropped to 90%. And don’t even get me started on how the IRA have been romanticized on film over the years (if they’d been speaking Arabic, they’d have been condemned long ago).
But I digress. You didn’t come here to hear me rant about film and politics, did you, True Believers? No, let’s talk about… MONSTERS! You love them, I love them, and I know Scott does too! And we’re always on the lookout for some crawling, slimy, bloodsucking tentacles beasties on our screens, and GRABBERS, a new Irish film, offers them up in droves.
Erin Island is a tiny fishing isle off the coast of Ireland, the type of place where everybody knows your name – coz you’re probably related to them – and they’re always glad you came, especially as there’s only one pub and they never seem to have their wallet on them. It’s a place where nothing much happens, so when a glowing meteor crashes into the ocean one night while a fishing boat is out, that’s a story for the fishermen to bring back home. That is, if something unseen didn’t grab them and pull them into the darkness, never to be found again.
Local Garda policeman Ciarán O’Shea (English TV actor Richard Coyle, PRINCE OF PERSIA) is an easy-going, boozy guy, never far from a drink but still capable of doing his job – fortunately, though, Erin Island is the type of thing where nothing happens, right?
His new partner, Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley, TV’s PRIMEVAL) thinks differently (”It’s always the quiet places where the mad shit happens”). She’s an outsider, over from the mainland to cover for O’Shea’s vacationing partner, and is not dissuaded by his insistence that the best she could hope for in the way of excitement is getting the local goat drunk. And she’s proven right, as a dozen dead pilot whales are washed up onto the local beach, attracting the attention of English marine ecologist Dr Smith (Russel Tovey, from the British version of the TV show BEING HUMAN), who concludes that they died at sea before the tide washed them in. Then workers hired to haul away the dead cetaceans find themselves under attack from things which grab them and drag them away across the sands
Meanwhile, fisherman Paddy (Lalor Roddy) catches something in his lobster trap, something that stinks, makes a weird sound and spits water (“Whatever it is, it’s no fecking lobster!”). After it escapes, bites him and subsequently dies, Paddy brings it to Smith and the police. They find it’s a giant, thrashing space anemone, which drinks blood via super long, bungee-cord tongues capped with single, vampiric teeth. After several more deaths, they also learn that there’s far more than one of them. Still, they need a moist environment to get about, so the people should be safe as long as it doesn’t rain-
Oh shit. A storm’s coming.
GRABBERS is one of the best monster B-movies I’ve seen in a while. The pace, humour and plotline is very reminiscent of the classic movie TREMORS (even the titular monsters’ names are reminiscent of TREMORS’ Graboids), but other classics such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, GREMLINS and ALIENS are referenced. We see just enough of the creatures not to feel cheated, and the CGI used is better than you’d get on the SyFy Channel. The creatures’ biologies are well-thought out (and at least the adult ones are cunning enough at one point to use a corpse marionette-style outside a house to lure more victims). As is their weakness: they die from ingesting blood above a certain alcohol level, prompting the Garda to order a lock-in of all the island’s residents (“We’ll have to do shots, really tear the arse off it.”) while trying to keep the threat of the aliens a secret .
One thing I liked was that the main characters went beyond their obvious stereotypes: O’Shea likes his drink, but he remains a competent officer, recognising that something wrong is happening on his turf; Nolan is the sardonic, by-the-books rookie, without being a tight-arsed martinet; Smith plays up the trope of the straight-laced scientist who wants to save the creatures for study and balks at called them ‘Grabbers’. And the principal actors play their roles well and have terrific chemistry together. Writer Kevin Lehane was inspired while backpacking across the world, being bit by mosquitoes and wondering if the bugs could get drunk from people’s blood. His script, his first to be made into a feature, plays naturally and funny (Before shooting, director Wright took actors Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley out drinking and filmed them while drunk. Ruth Bradley discovered many quirks about herself while drunk that she used in her performance.)
The scenery around Donegal and Northern Ireland is gorgeous, the production made more impressive for being shot during the harshest winter in Ireland in over a hundred years, with blizzards, gale force storms and sub-zero temperatures regularly hampering production.
I’m hoping that the U.S. gets the chance to see this, and soon; it’s a lot of fun. The trailer is here.
Director: Jon Wright
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Gore: 3 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien