Alien invasions can be thwarted by the simplest of things. According to the movies, even the biggest, scariest, toothiest alien can usually be defeated by something as commonplace as water, the common cold, or a basic computer virus. In Grabbers, it’s alcohol that proves to be their undoing. The titular ‘grabbers’ are aquatic monsters that feed on blood, and are horribly allergic to booze. So when they crash land in the Irish sea and start preying on the inhabitants of Erin Island, there’s only one thing for the locals to do: organise a lock-in and get paralytically drunk.
It’s a daft sounding premise, but Grabbers plays it straight, and by doing so, manages to turn a potentially silly idea into something rather wonderful. It’s not that it doesn’t have a sense of humour – it’s definitely a comedy horror, and it’s frequently hilarious – but the comedy doesn’t come at the expense of its characters, or of the film’s sense of realism. Comedy is only one aspect of the film, and it’s not even the most important one: above all, this is a love story.
Let’s go back to that premise for a moment. By choosing to set this story on an island, Grabbers immediately establishes one of the things any good horror movie needs: isolation.
Erin Island is a small fishing community, the kind of sleepy small-town where everyone knows everyone else. The one outsider in the story is Lisa Nolan, a young Garda from the mainland who’s been drafted in to keep the peace while the head Garda goes on holiday for a fortnight. Lisa is enthusiastic, dedicated to her work to the point of being kind of uptight – and she’s a teetotaller. Her temporary partner, Garda Ciaran O’Shea, is older, grumpier, and an alcoholic. You can maybe see where this is going. When a storm rolls in, preventing any external help from reaching the island, the grabbers start attacking – so it’s down to Nolan and O’Shea to work through their differences and find a way to save the day.
Their relationship is the heart of the film, and if it’s a little predictable, well, it’s so sweet it’s tough to argue with it. Ruth Bradley is fantastic as the strait-laced Nolan; her drunken scenes are almost painfully funny, and she quickly establishes an easy chemistry with Richard Coyle’s O’Shea that’s immediately believable. For his part, he’s convincingly world-weary, and pulls off an almost flawless Irish accent.
The rest of the cast are great, too: Russell Tovey is terrific as the priggish English scientist, and Lalor Roddy, David Pearse, Pascal Scott, Ned Dennehy and Bronagh Gallagher all put in fantastic performances as the locals of Erin Island. There are so many opportunities for Grabbers to make stupid jokes, to make the comedy too broad, or to lapse into lazy stereotypes, but it always resists. Instead, it pulls the comedy back in favour of kindness. There’s genuine affection there, and it shines through even in the way the characters and locations are shot.
And then, of course, there are the aliens – because this isn’t just a rom-com, it’s a monster movie.
The grabbers are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They’re part octopus, part lamprey, part facehugger, all Lovecraftian nightmare. It’s clear that a lot of care and attention has gone into designing and creating the grabbers – yes, they’re mostly CGI, but it doesn’t take long to forget that. They’re formidable beasts, and they’re made all the scarier by the fact that you actually find yourself caring about the characters.
By keeping the comedy grounded in reality, and making the characters so relatable, the horror elements of the movie seem all the more effective, and there are several scenes that are genuinely tense. You never feel cheated by the scares, and though there’s a only a limited amount of gore on display, it’s more than enough to be effective.
There really isn’t much wrong with this movie, and you can’t help but applaud writer Kevin Lehane and director Jon Wright. Okay, so maybe it’s not hugely ambitious, and maybe it won’t change your life – but then not every film has to. As a piece of entertainment, it’s just about faultless. It seems like a weird thing to say about a horror movie, but this is a film to cherish. We defy you not to fall at least a little bit in love with it.
Grabbers screened at Frightfest 2012, is currently on general release at Frightfest, and will be released in the UK in December.
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