We’ve all seen a good number of ‘survival’ films the past two decades. I mean, it seems to be the kind of film that studios feel that it is the kind of thing that would be easy to make a quick buck. I mean, films like those often involve a lot of wandering, walking and a lot of interaction between characters. It is kind of a man vs. the environment kind of deal and director Joe Carnahan seems poised to follow in the footsteps of such a film. Well, “The Grey” does have all the devices and the mechanics that make survival films successful. But what makes this film different and yet the same, is the way it seemed to inject horror film dynamics into the mix. Sure, it was done before in Lee Tamahori’s “The Edge”, but something about Carnahan’s “The Grey” made it really click for me.
In seeing the trailers, you would know exactly where the film is headed, it can only be one of two ways that the film can end. I know it is silly, but Carnahan does manage to sidestep its silliness early on in the film. The film begins rather quickly with a lot of mood and human drama. John Ottway (Liam Neeson) works for a petroleum company as some sort of a sniper to provide security against the wildlife living in Alaska. There is something gnawing at Ottway, I mean you can tell from the beginning that working in such a harsh environment is getting to him. So much so that his mind often goes into his past with his wife Anna (Anna Openshaw) and he is showing signs of depression amid all the drinking and brawling around him. One day, it is the end of his assignment and he boards a plane bound to Anchorage along with his fellow contractors.
The harsh weather brings the plane to crash, and Ottway is left with a small number of survivors (that includes Joe Anderson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Nonzo Anozie, Ben Bray and James Badge Dale). The group must work together to fight the freezing temperature, the weather, and the wolves that seemed hell bent on feeding on them. How far should they go to try to survive?
“The Grey” is pretty straight-forward as can be. As I’ve mentioned there is only one of two ways that the film can unfold and end, but what Carnahan does so well is the fact that he keeps one guessing just how it can end. Would it be a good happy ending or something more sincere? I am not going to answer that question for you, “The Grey” is an easy film to like or dislike. What carries this film is the way the characters seem to tell their own story, I could truly feel that they are men, they have lived and they are trying to survive. Carnahan does the film’s tempo quite well, the viewer would know off the bat that not all would survive, but what made the film succeed is the way it is packed with thrills and scares. Carnahan knew how to make use of every situation in “The Grey” and sometimes, I couldn’t help but be touched with survival-horror drama unfolding in my eyes.
Carnahan knew how to shoot the film. He wasn’t going to make this a cheap ‘turning on each other while the wolves eat us’, he shows respect to his viewers. From some eerie scene where the wolves eyes slowly glimmer in the dark, to the way the group tries to fight back, there are no cheap scares. Each scene of intense fear is earned, the characters react realistically, sometimes they argue and fight, but then, they celebrate in small victories. He keeps the film’s pace and tone moving forward, not one scene feels redundant, and each demise was able to carry a lot of emotion. It wasn’t so much as how it happened, but what they were during that time. Carnahan was able to put together a story about survival and even show the dark side of hopelessness, the fight to believe and the acceptance of fate.
I suppose I can say that the film was well acted. Neeson was able to exude that feeling of fear, frustration and denial throughout the film. The supporting characters seemed to exhibit different reactions, as John Diaz (Frank Grillo) appears to be the more cocky in the group, some are more active as with Talget (Delmort Mulroney) and most of them seemed to be content to follow one’s lead. The main antagonists in the film are the wolves together with the environment. I was very stunned with Carnahan’s attention to detail, as he was able to credibly put into the film’s dramatic points with the wolves own rules and behavior. The set designs were utterly realistic, the film was shot with a lot of grain to show the film’s gritty and desperate mood. I also enjoyed the way the film showed blizzard scenes of pure white out, and it was able to generate a feeling of claustrophobia.
“The Grey” has a lot of depth from its beginning to its tone of existentialism near the climax. The film was an exercise of hopelessness, and the need for the humanity’s more heroic side. It was easy to pull this off given Carnahan’s careful hand in setting the film’s tone and tempo. Carnahan was able to take the viewer into the short lives of his characters and the viewer witnesses how they deal with this situation. True, they weren’t anything special at their core, but that was what made the final act much more surprising. I suppose everyone needs to be in the fray, and this is what made the film such an engrossing and intense thriller. Carnahan was able to tell a compelling story about survival-horror, and he didn’t even need zombies and monsters to do so.
*** out of **** A plane filled with passengers, headed "home" - wherever that may be - from Alaska. A crash; leaving six survivors total. A wasteland covered in snow and ice; the air riddled with only the cold. The surrounding areas belong to the wolves; and the lives of those unfortunate souls stuck there belong to nature. This situation is scary on its own, and the only thing scarier than this, in my opinion, is a lone man faced with similar struggles. But this is clearly … more
Star Rating: The Grey is a deplorable example of exploitation, cruelty, and nihilism masquerading as philosophy. Here is a “survivalist” story in which the survivors are given the same reverence as horror movie victims, who appear to have depth and yet are merely awaiting their turn to die on cue. Not merely die, but become playthings for “nature,” which in this case is about as unnatural as it gets. It’s bad enough we have to endure … more
By Joan Alperin Schwartz It takes a lot for a film to truly scare me. I mean, after seeing hundreds and hundreds of movies featuring, knife wielding masked maniacs, cannablistic nuclear families preying on hot teenage girls and demon possessed embroyos, I've become kind of blaise about the horror genre. So many horror films are derative of one another. But I'm happy to say...this is definitely … more
R-bloody images, violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language
Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements – and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt – before their time runs out.