Monday, January 7, 2013

DVD of the Week: The Grey

So with the New Year a sort of order returns to our household, and our saturday evenings once again become subject to the whims of what DVD lovefilm has sent us this week. Our rule is that we stick something on the list if it looks even vaguely interesting, and we have to watch it when it turns up. That way we often end up seeing things you'd pass over in favour of safer bets if picking from a list, and unearths the occasional gem. It's safe to say that The Grey isn't one of them. Sold in much of it's advertising as "Liam Neeson was in Taken. Now he Punches Wolves!", The Grey came with a certain expectation  of man vs wolf brawling action, and an undercurrent of being a moderately high-budget B-movie. I was totally onboard for that.

But it's not what you get. Right from the start, The Grey wants you to know that this is a thoughtful film, about stuff. You get serenely paced landscape shots, Neesons smooth tones talking about loss, and life, and the isolation of his job. He shoots a wolf, and gets moody about it. It nearly shoots himself, and gets moody about that too. He moodily gets on a plane with a bunch of assholes - we know they're assholes because they're not moody, like Liam - and inevitably the plane breaks up in midair, crashes and from then on we have a serenely shot and moody battle of survival against the harshness of nature.

This is the heart of the problem with The Grey: it doesn't know what it wants to be. For a lot of the time - a more perceptive person than me pointed out Twitter that its the daylight sequences - it's a survival tale where the enemy is the cold, heartless wilderness itself. A tale where the characters ruminate on life and death, where Liam Neeson shouts commandingly at God to come out and have a go if he thinks he's tough enough. For the rest of the time its a slasher flick with wolves coming out of the darkness without warning and offing hard-to-like characters in the spirit of all those films where teenagers go to get drunk and make out in the woods.

These latter sections are all slightly risible, up to and including a pure "Scooby Doo" moment when one set of eyes reflected in the firelight suddenly become seven, like those moments when Shaggy and Scooby have locked themselves in a cupboard with this weeks monster. Zoinks! Its the Wolfs, Scoob!

But the wolves aren't really that much of a threat - they drift in and out of the story and more characters are killed by the Alaskan Wilderness (including a Tree!) than by the marauding, man-eating pack. All this would be fine, I think, if the slower, survival plot line had much traction, but it doesn't. The characters struggle to be more than stereotypes - the black guy, the mouthy guy, the nice guy, Liam Neeson - and there is little sense of direction for their trek so the stakes feel wierdly low. I mean, are they close to safety? Far away and hopeless regardless? I think the film is aiming for that not to matter; I think it's aiming to a film that loads its quality into the subtext, but sadly, it doesn't manage to, not least because of its jarring tonal shifts.

Still, you get to see Liam Neeson punch a wolf. So that's something.