There aren’t many movies that I consider to be truly perfect, but comic sci-fi monster movie Tremors, the film Grabbers most closely resembles, is one of the few. It’s a movie that has absolutely everything, a superb cast (led by the incomparable duo of Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward), terrific characters that you can root for, peerless creature design, an endlessly witty script, the most finely balanced tone (it’s as much a loving tribute to old b-pictures as it is a piss take), there’s even some genuinely skin crawling horror to be had from the Jaws-under-the floor tension. It is so good in fact, that it’s success has never been repeated (though the three DTV sequels are surprisingly fun). Deep Rising shared a little DNA with it, but was more about gung-ho action spectacle than the much smarter, sharper Tremors. When I read somewhere that Grabbers was being described as Tremors meets Father Ted (my all time favourite sit-com) my interest was more than piqued, I was twitching with anticipation, and that way (as V/H/S demonstrated last year) lays disappointment.
The story concerns alcoholic Garda Ciaran O’Shea (Richard Coyle) breaking in a temporary new partner in straight laced, by the book Lisa (Ruth Bradley). Unfortunately for both, on the same day she arrives at the sleepy Irish island town, so does a hungry, tentacled, blood sucking alien monster. With the help of a marine ecologist named Smith (Russell Tovey) and local drunkard Paddy (Lalor Roddy), the pair discover the creature’s one weakness, a severe allergy to alcohol, meaning that getting riotously drunk might just save their lives.
The first half hour of Grabbers, while deftly setting up the story and introducing the characters, suggested that at least some mild disappointment was on the cards. The initial monster attacks aren’t terribly scary or imaginative. The comic back and forth between Ciaran and Lisa is fun, but not as sharp as I might have hoped. It looks as if it might not rise above simply being good. Fortunately, at the half hour mark, something changes and Grabbers, not wanting to stereotype the Irish, begins to charm. The most significant reason for this is the chemistry between the two leads, the romantic angle may be far from original, but it is very sweet and totally believable. Richard Coyle has been deserving of a decent film role for years, he’s a natural comic talent and a highly likeable presence in everything he does, and he makes Ciaran the perfect loveable Irish rogue. Charming as Coyle is, Ruth Bradley is even better, walking a fine line that allows her to be amusingly disapproving without ever coming across as a killjoy or a bore. It is, in short, the most blindingly charming, smart and sweet performance I have seen in years (some miraculous drunk acting from the young actress provides perhaps the movie’s comic highlight). Bradley is without question a star in the making. The rest of the cast are excellent too. Russell Tovey continues a long winning streak of great performances as the stuffy English scientist who fancies Lisa too. Lalor Roddy gets a bunch of choice lines as a local drunk along for the ride, each one timed to perfection. The whole supporting cast is on the money.
The script is a winner too, smart without being smart-arsed, consistently funny and filthy (“put out that cigarette or I’ll use the top of your cock as an ashtray!”), the romantic sparring picks up pace and ignites, there’s not a line wasted during the last hour.
One more thing a great monster movie needs is a great monster and, despite its low budget, Grabbers has a doozy, a flurry of tentacles around a mouth full of whirring, razor sharp teeth. It’s a design triumph, even the way it moves as it chases its prey is gloriously realised.
I have next to nothing negative to say about Grabbers, the first twenty minutes or so are not quite as excellent as what comes after, and the conclusion strays a little towards cliché, but even then pulls it back with some choice, punch-the-air zingers and arse kicking.
Overall, Grabbers is an absolute triumph, a gloriously entertaining, goofy b-movie, with real heart, terrific performances and whip smart invention at its centre. Very, very highly recommended.
Director: Jon Wright
Cast: Ciaran O’Shea, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Lador Roddy, Pascal Scott
Runtime: 94 mins
Country: Republic of Ireland