Every country has its own personality, a fact that’s as true for movies as it is for any other aspect of culture. Japanese movies are different from those made in Hong Kong, which are different from those made in England, which are very different from those made in Hollywood or Bollywood.
All of which is to say that Grabbers could only have been made in Ireland.
Grabbers is a 2012 horror/comedy that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, then proceeded to run across a dozen other festivals, winning awards and nominations along the way. The idea is simple: a mated pair of alien tentacle monsters land in the waters near an island off the coast of Ireland, where they promptly start feeding on the locals and laying eggs. The locals have little defense until they discover the monsters’ weakness: alcohol is poison to them (well, more poisonous to them than it is to us). Unfortunately, the poison must be ingested to work. They’re able to kill the female this way, but they can’t muster the weapons to defeat the much larger male, and they can’t summon help until a major storm passes. That leaves them only one option: everyone on the island must become roaring drunk until help can arrive.
Yes. That’s why it could only have been made in Ireland.
I don’t need to write a more detailed summary, because if you’re the sort of person to read and enjoy this blog, then you’ve seen this movie many, many times before. But then, there’s nothing new under the Sun. It’s the way you do something that makes it fresh. With that in mind, I’ll just be talking about a few of the more interesting points of the movie, in no particular order. Spoilers ahead.
1) I appreciate that, of our two protagonists, neither is shown to be 100% “right”. Garda (National Police Officer) Ciarán O’Shea is an alcoholic, and Garda Lisa Nolan is a workaholic. In some movies, the story would be about O’Shea getting his act together and becoming a proper police officer. In many more (especially here in the U.S.), it would be about Lisa learning that O’Shea’s seat-of-the-pants style and local connections are more effective. Lisa does indeed learn that local connections are as important – if not moreso – than keeping everything by the book. But O’Shea isn’t some Maverick Who Gets Results, he’s genuinely undependable until he manages to get his nose out of the bottle. Each compensates for, and helps correct, the other’s flaws.
2) All of that said, the love story kind of comes out of fecking nowhere. They start out annoying each other, and, minus one drunken pass, stay that way until they have to try and save everyone from being eaten by tentacle monsters, at which point they realize they’re The One for each other. I’ve seen it enough times to become inured, but it’s still annoying.
3) Ah, we finally see the male! I thought they were going to hide it behind the black forever. Hmm. Uh-oh. Creature design: not half bad. CGI: not half good.
4) As always, I’m glad to see a movie where the scientist gets a fair shake. Dr. Smith is a bit goofy in his pursuit of Lisa, and he has little patience for fools (“Are [the beached, slashed-to-pieces whales] dead?” “No, they’re just sleeping, actually.” “I give up, it’s a Grabber. Well done.”), but he’s a solid man with his priorities in order. When the protagonists come running into his lab and start splashing petrol on the female creature’s apparently-inert body, he starts to protest. You expect him to say that they can’t destroy it, in the name of Science! Instead, he says that if they set it on fire in here, they’ll (sprinklers go off) get it wet. One attack by a revitalized tentacle monster later, and he’s the first to pick up a weapon. He mourns the loss to science…then starts stomping again when it’s still moving. I’m reminded of Matt Hooper from Jaws, who knows full well that the shark is a danger to human life that must be killed…but who tries to do so with a poisoned harpoon, so the body can be preserved.
5) Is there a reason that they don’t want anyone to know about the monsters? The usual “we can’t tell anyone, they’ll think we’re crazy” excuse doesn’t apply. They have the body of the female. All they have to do is haul it out, show it to people, and say “There’s still one of these running around that’s much bigger, and the only way to keep it from eating you is to get ripping drunk.” I know, the other classic excuse: “don’t want to cause a panic”. Are they really better off keeping it hidden and trying to get everyone to come to a booze-up for no reason at all? Granted, the latter is easier than it might be elsewhere (Ireland!), but at least a few people might have stayed home and been easy prey.
6) Bet this situation would have been much easier for American coppers in an American film. Is it really possible that they don’t have any weapons at all? I’ve heard that English and Irish police don’t carry guns, since they’re unlikely to run into criminals who carry them, but they don’t have at least a shotgun or two back at the station? Even on a peaceful island like this one, that’s hard to believe.
7) For all of you USians wondering why a police officer, even one as slipshod as O’Shea, is offering the congregation crack as enticement to come to a simple drinking party, and no one seems shocked, the word he’s using is actually “craic”. It’s a Gaelic word that means conversation, entertainment, and general good cheer.
8) I like how the old folks and the parish priest are lively participants in the party at the pub. As with sex, the attitude of American society toward booze is an odd combination of Puritanism and hypocrisy. You’re not allowed to drink until you reach 21, then you’re more or less expected to be stupid about it for a few years, after which it goes away again except for the occasional wine with dinner or beer “with the boys” (and if you have a weekend at deer camp where you try to drink where you’re 21 again, that’s just boys being boys). Ireland has more than its share of problems with booze, but at least they acknowledge that old people and clergy are still human, and like to have a little fun.
9) There’s another thing this movie is honest about: being drunk makes the characters stupid and clumsy. Defending themselves against the monster is made more difficult by their very defenses, and it has real consequences. It’s all fun and games until someone gets swatted into the stratosphere by the giant tentacle monster.
10) …it’s dropping elbows. The giant tentacle monster is dropping elbows on the cop car. This is what I meant when I said this movie could only have been made in Ireland.
11) Red Molly made an interesting observation: given the ongoing themes of alcohol and alcoholism in this movie, it seems interesting that their primary plan to kill the monster is by literally “drying it out”.
12) “Get away from him you cuuunnnnt!” Fairly obvious reference to Aliens, with a little word substitution. Little reminder that the c-word isn’t the nuclear option of swear words on the other side of the pond, like it is here in the U.S.
13) And of course there are some eggs left. Of course there are. I’m going to write it off as a convention of the genre that this movie is so affectionately parodying. Otherwise I would have to scream.
Overall, I give it a 6.5 out of 10. Worth the rental price, if brick-and-mortar video stores still exist in your area. Worth seeking out on Netflix otherwise. The plot is well-worn, but that’s the point: the familiar plot is the framework on which the comedy is built. The characters are likable and believable, the monster is cool (if ill-served by the CGI), and the twist is just enough to make it interesting. Check it out.