Review: Toronto After Dark Film Festival – Grabbers

Grabbers

The Toronto After Dark Film Festival chose a fine movie for this year’s Opening Gala ceremony. The Irish horror/sci-fi Grabbers (2012) is a fun, good-natured, and sometimes clever flick that manages to bring some fresh elements to the genre. Outlandish ideas are standard in monster films, and Grabbers features one that feels truly original: the only way to protect oneself against bloodsucking alien octopi is to make one’s blood toxic through the consumption of alcoholic beverages. This premise, while seeming almost foolproof, could have easily caused Grabbers to become a tonally scattered mess; balancing the extremes of joyous laughter and nail-biting terror is more complicated than it may seem. Director Jon Wright and screenwriter Kevin Lehane cannily avoid this problem by relying on great character-oriented comedy punctuated by occasionally tense moments rather than an overbearing atmosphere of horror. Grabbers likely won’t frighten you, and that’s exactly why it works.

The violence is gruesome at times, but never excessive. Gore is kept to a minimum, with the most revolting bits usually involving monster slime and bloodless severed heads. Since Grabbers is fairly lighthearted as a whole, overly grotesque mutilations aren’t required. However, the film could have benefited from a slightly higher bodycount, especially during the climax with many of the townspeople barricaded in a bar. The monsters in Grabbers are formidable tentacled abominations that don’t seem to have many problems snaring victims, and yet only two ultimately perish during their climactic siege. In other words, the stakes needed to be much higher for the characters, and they aren’t, despite the high number of creatures. There is also a considerable lapse in the film’s inner logic during this section: a character who is completely drunk is easily killed and consumed with no consequence to the monster, when the levels of alcohol in the character’s blood should have destroyed it.

Grabbers also missteps by introducing a contrived burgeoning romance between its two leads. Their growing attraction is poorly developed, with too little screen time devoted to making spectators believe in their love. The actors do their best to suggest chemistry, though the screenplay ultimately betrays their efforts. But what works in Grabbers does so very well. The titular monsters are creatively designed and executed with some surprisingly good computer generated effects. A small handful of shots feature monsters that seem completely believable, which tends to be a rarity in low-budget genre films that make use of CGI. Much of the credit likely belongs to director Wright, who rarely focuses his camera on the monsters longer than necessary. And speaking of Wright, he has a marvellous visual eye. There are some gorgeous compositions of landscapes in Grabbers that effectively suggest both serene beauty and menace. Ultimately, the film may have its problems, but they are minor. Grabbers has more than enough worthwhile elements to offer.

As part of the Opening Gala ceremony, After Dark also screened the short film Not Till We’re Married (2012), which was nicely quirky and funny, but also somewhat underdeveloped. The story certainly grabs one’s attention: a woman dates a guy she found online, only to discover that he has been standing in for his drastically underdeveloped twin brother who used to be attached to his hip. What ensues are a series of scenes where the twin wants love and the woman refuses him because he is so revolting to her. While funny and somewhat touching, Not Till We’re Married ends too abruptly. The film is insubstantial because it feels like there should have been at least one more stage of development to its story. Still, it set the night’s tone well, and was an appropriate lead-in for Grabbers.

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About the Author

David Hollands

Born and raised in Ottawa, ON. David quickly developed a passion for writing and movies, which ultimately brought him to Toronto to study Film at York University. Currently, David holds a BA from York and an MA from the University of Toronto, and will be pursuing his Ph.D. shortly. His preferred genres are Horror and Science Fiction, on which David had written extensively while in school. One of his papers on reboots was published in the July 2010 issue of Film Matters magazine (http://finearts.news.yorku.ca/2010/08/24/film-students-paper-names-the-reboot-as-new-trend-in-hollywood/). Finally, David likes long walks on the beach, you know, like in that movie Maniac (1980).

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