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Grabbers (2012)

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Back in the late 1950s, I remember paying to see Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) which was intended as comedy science fiction, but failed rather miserably. Hence, its designation as a B movie. It’s relevance to Grabbers (2012) is that the 1950s invaders from outer space came equipped with retractable claws, capable of injecting their enemies with killer venom, i.e. 100% alcohol which, of course, is toxic in sufficient quantities. So if you should go down to the woods today, you’d be sure of a big surprise if an alien stabbed its claws into you and you enjoyed the results (up to a point, anyway). In fact, those aliens do kill an alcoholic, giving him an overdose even his sozzled system can’t absorb. Well, Grabbers could be subtitled Poitín vs. the Aliens or Alcoholism Saves! Indeed, it would be hard to find a better advert for Irish moonshine.

Richard Coyle showing Ruth Bradley and Russell Tovey that a rolled-up newspaper is the preferred weapon

Richard Coyle showing Ruth Bradley and Russell Tovey that a rolled-up newspaper is the preferred weapon

 

It all starts with the ultimate cliché of a camera watching from Earth orbit as a streak of fire indicates a fast incoming object hitting the upper atmosphere. Switch to a trawler at sea off the Irish coast and a green contrail overhead is followed by a big splash. Needless to say the three fishermen don’t last very long. The question thereafter is how you subvert the predictable plot of a small number of defenceless people stuck on an island with no prospect of rescue as the alien beasties wade onshore for dinner. The answer comes in an exploration of the logic that might be applied by the people at risk. First we need to meet the key plays and this is nicely managed through the arrival on the island of Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). She’s a workaholic police officer assigned to hold the fort on the small island for two weeks. The officer she meets when she arrives is Garda Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle). He’s still in mourning for the death of his marriage and drinks himself insensible every night. On their first day, he gives her the quick tour which shows her where the heavy earthmoving equipment is stored and, more, importantly, what’s on the beach. Unusually, it’s the bodies of whales which seem to have been attacked and driven ashore. Studying them is Dr Adam Smith (Russell Tovey), the mandatory scientist who can later guess what’s going on even though he’s British and so not the brightest bulb in the box. The other character of interest is Paddy Barrett (Lalor Roddy). He finds something of interest in his lobster pot, takes it home and puts it in his bath. His salvation is the moonshine he makes and uses to pickle his internal organs.

 

So here comes the punchline. After a very scientific test, our community leaders prove the aliens sicken and potentially die if they attempt to consume blood enriched with too much alcohol. Since the people can’t get off the island, their only salvation lies in a lock-in at the local pub. So long as they all stay outrageously incapacitated, they should be safe. You may well be wondering how our aquatic aliens can cope on land. The answer lies in the very heavy rain which falls the first night they come for a snack and which will accompany the storm front preventing evacuation the next day. With no time to spare, all the locals are gathered together and offered as much free booze as they can consume. Naturally, they are curious but it’s not until later they discover the reason. In the second half of the film, the trick is to track who has the bottle of Paddy’s poitín. It’s inspirational stuff when it comes to collecting holiday snaps of visitors or suggesting good things to do with a nail gun. Indeed, half the fun of this film is watching how the Dutch courage kicks in, particularly benefitting Ruth Bradley’s Lisa Nolan who becomes completely fearless after her first serious drinking session.

Lalor Roddy demonstrating staying safe while drunk

Lalor Roddy demonstrating the art of staying safe while drunk

 

So, summing up, we have a fun take on the most hoary of monster movie tropes. I laughed out loud a couple of times which is a rarity. I think I was seduced by the fact the entire cast play this completely straight and, most importantly, no-one panics and runs around like a headless chicken. There’s no attempt at humour in the usual overt sense of cracking jokes. Indeed, the only time one of the cast does tell a joke, it falls completely flat. The CGI on the monster and its spawn is efficiently done, managing to maintain sufficiently credibility in the danger they all represent to the humans (although there’s a moment of false cuteness mimicking Gremlins (1984) where the spawn come into the bar out of the rain). In general, the plot is nicely judged and it doesn’t outstay its welcome at 94 minutes running time. The weakness comes in the central performance from Richard Coyle. Somehow it’s not convincing as a functioning alcoholic. Although he seems to have developed a tolerance for alcohol, there are no signs of withdrawal symptoms when he’s not drinking. There’s no irritability if he can’t drink at the expected time, no tremors so we can see him gulping the alcohol down from hidden stashes to feel normal. Indeed, when he does go cold turkey, there are no ill effects at all which wrecks the credibility of the performance. Moving in the opposite direction, Ruth Bradley does very well as a first-time drunk, just staying on the right side — the performance reminded me of Jimmy James, whom I saw live in the music hall — because she was so completely serious all the time which is what you would expect. Even the drunkest person remembers and concentrates on the essentials when her life is at risk. So Grabbers is entertaining in a modest way and a very good example of one of the most difficult things to achieve — an amusing SF film which is a homage to, and not a parody of, the failures of 1950s B movies.

 

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