Part of the reason that Steph managed to get me to go see The Hunger Games was by telling me that it was partially a survival movie. Looking forward to a movie involving survival skills, foraging, and shelter building in the wilderness, I was largely disappointed. It was in this same mind that I decided to go see The Grey today for $2 at the cheap seats. (Again, shout out to Budget South Cinemas.)
The Grey stars Liam Neeson as John Ottway, a professional wolf-killer, hired to protect oil-workers in Alaska from the predators. At the beginning of the movie we see him writing a suicide note and placing the barrel of his rifle in his mouth, before being distracted by the far off howls of wolves. After a particular field job is completed, the entire team is on a plane heading back home, when the plan crashes in the deserted Alaskan tundra. Most of the oil workers, was well as the pilots and crew, were killed in the crash, but seven survived, and what follows is in many ways your typical wilderness survival narrative, in which we see Ottway develop from a suicidal character to the leader of the team and fighting to survive. What differentiates The Grey from your conventional survival movie as I think of them is that the threat to the men’s lives in general is not the incredibly harsh environmental conditions, or a shortage of food or water, but rather a pack of wolves who throughout the movie continue to pick off the survivors one by one.
And that really is where the movie fell short. The vast majority of the screen time and the story is devoted to the wolves, and yet the wolves are quite frankly terribly realized. Our first real image of them is a familiar and tired motif of neon green menacing eyes appearing in the darkness, soon followed by more and more pairs of eyes, illustrating that the team is surrounded. These laughably cliched moments continued throughout the film, but what really did them in was the fact that we never actually get to see any real man on wolf action sequence. We occasionally see wolves pacing and looking incredibly fake, but once a wolf attacks we just see a series of quick cuts of fangs and fur and blood. The entire movie is based around these attacks, yet it seems that the filmmakers never actually figured out how to film them. The portrayal of the wolves probably dropped this movie an entire letter grade for me.
Much of the dialogue was fairly stilted as well, but that I can mostly overlook. The acting was actually fairly good. Neeson predictably carried the movie, but the other men held their own, portraying various types of roughnecks coming to terms (or not) with the harshness and severity of their situation.
In my opinion, the ending (which I will not ruin here, and is almost certainly controversial among viewers) saves the rest of the movie, and I felt it was well executed. If you saw the trailer and are expecting an action thriller with lots of scenes of Neeson bare-knuckling wolves, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The actual story is much darker and much more brooding, and it is in that way that I think that the ending works. That being said, there is clearly a primal satisfaction to any man versus wild verses wolves narrative, and this movie will at least quench that thirst, although not in the most elegant way that I’ve seen.
In an uncinematic sidenote, I’d like to register concern with the portrayal of wolves in this movie. They were essentially portrayed as calculating, bloodthirsty monsters, working as a team to eliminate all of the survivors one by one. First of all, I’m fairly certain that this is biologically inaccurate to say the least, but it is also concerning to be spreading this misconception. This is particularly concerning at a time where wolves were recently removed from the endangered species list, and within a matter of weeks, my own state of Wisconsin passed a bill allowing them to be hunted. There, I’ll get off my soap box now.
All in all, this movie was fine, but not great. If you’re looking for an action-packed creature feature, this movie will satisfy your bloodlust (there is a LOT of blood), although the action leaves quite a bit to be desired. The human story is good, though as noted, much of the dialogue is weak, and subtlety is not a word that leaps to mind. As I said, this movie is currently playing for $2. Go check it out, since that’s about how much you should pay for it. Or better yet, wait until a Tuesday, it’ll only be $1 then.