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Slither (2006,USA)

05/10/2011

Director: James Gunn         Starring: Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry

Horror-comedy is a difficult blend of genres to pull off properly. All too often one of the elements will suffer by the inclusion of the other and you end up with something that is too horrible or sickening to be properly funny or is too funny to pack enough punch to shock when it has to. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with either approach mind you, a bias in one direction or the other isn’t necessarily going to ruin the experience completely but it can dull the edge slightly. Slither is an example of this sort of crossover that seems to achieve its goal. Packed with gags it may be, but it still manages to be fist clenchingly unpleasant and tense when it comes to the horror elements.

When wealthy businessman Grant Grant (Rooker) gets drunk and goes for a stroll in the woods he finds himself on the wrong end of a parasitic creature from outer space. Grant starts to behave rather strangely as a result of his newfound symbiote mutating into a horrendous corruption of the flesh and doing his outmost to spread his extra terrestrial passenger like a virus in the small town of Wheelsy. Sherrif Bill Pardy (Fillion) teams up with Grant’s wife Starla (Banks) in an effort to help Grant but it soon becomes clear, as the populace of the town fall prey to alien brain slugs, that perhaps Grant is beyond help and the situation requires far more drastic action.

There’s a lot going on in Slither. The alien menace draws on plenty of classic horror/sci-fi staples. There is the infected body horror of Cronenberg’s Shivers and Rabid, the zombie like hosts are reminiscent of Romero’s zombie hordes. It has hints of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Somewhat more obscurely there are similarities between eighties cult classic Terrorvision and the bizarre Billy Warlock vehicle, Society. It clearly owes a massive debt to Tremors. The horror aspect of the film is very much rooted in the idea of disease, impurity and the corruption of the flesh. Grant’s deterioration from man to monster is grotesque and tragic. It will make your skin crawl.

This often really unpleasant side of the film is extremely well balanced by the funnier elements. The dialogue is excellent, especially Fillion’s who gets all the best lines (“My easygoing nature is getting sorely fuckin’ tested!” he declares at one point whilst being swarmed by a deluge of alien zombies) and it’s delivered with a deadpan delight that makes sometimes only mildly amusing phrases shine that bit brighter. It’s careful not to descend too far into farce, the comedy stays the right shade of dark which is just the way I like it. Writer/Director James Gunn seems to have cracked the art of taking something horrific and making it funny without losing its visceral impact. Witness Brenda, her body distended beyond belief by the alien invaders and you will see what I mean. Funny, tragic, grotesque, all at the same time.

The alien creature is well realised and a great deal of thought has obviously gone into its history and biology. The hive mind that connects the Grant-alien with the rest of its minions is illustrated by a beautiful bit of exposition where we experience the thoughts and feelings of a victim of the creatures as she is connected to the network, a series of flashing sequences spanning the creature’s lifespan giving us glimpses of other worlds and other victims. It’s a nice touch and well put together. The same can be said of the creature effects which, presumably for cost purposes have been mainly computer generated but the CGI has been handled well, making for some neat effects shots that you could almost mistake for mechanical effects. Gunn has taken great pains to try and come up with different ways of presenting the beasts to us on screen too, my particular favourite is when a girl has locked herself in a truck to avoid the brain slugs which swarm over the vehicle and we get to see her terrified face criss-crossed with the squirming shadows of the slugs as the try to find a way in. It’s a subtle shot but really effective. The main Grant-alien-mutant has been built, a vast, traditional make-up effect that is absolutely stunning and combines well with the CGI effects. When you get to see him in all his glory it’s pretty impressive.

I went to see this when it fist hit cinemas and remember being really impressed with it at the time. I hadn’t seen it again since then and was a little worried that on a second viewing I may have found it lacking the balance of fun and shocks I enjoyed so much the first time around. This turned out to be completely unfounded and the film won me over once again with its unadulterated love of the genre and deft execution. Just don’t watch it while you’re eating your dinner…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 05/10/2011 21:26

    Oh man! See, now I’ll never be able to take a bath again, and all I did was see the pictures on your blog! It’s a damn good thing we have a shower too. *groan*

    • 06/10/2011 22:29

      Just keep telling yourself “it’s only a movie”. For once, the CGI beasties actually look quite realistic. It’s the sort of film that makes you involuntarily contract every available orifice….

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