Friday, 2 March 2007

Friday, 2 March 2007
SLITHER (2006)
CAST: Nathan Fillion (Bill Pardy), Elizabeth Banks (Starla Grant), Michael Rooker (Grant Grant), Gregg Henry (Jack MacReady), Tania Saulnier (Kylie Strutemyer), Jenna Fischer (Shelby Cunningham), Brenda James (Brenda Gutierrez), Don Thompson (Wally Whale), Haig Sutherland (Trevor Carpenter) & Jennifer Copping (Margaret Hooper)

A meteor crashes in a smalltown and an alien spore infects a local, brainwashing him into ensuring their procreation...

Writer-director James Gunn got his break into movies with Tromeo & Juliet (1996), a low-budget shlock-horror comedy from the infamous Troma Entertainment. From these humble beginnings, Gunn secured a writing gig on Scooby Doo and its sequel, before successfully updating Dawn Of The Dead for the 21st Century. Not a bad career trajectory, really.

In 2006, a decade since Troma, Gunn got his shot at the big time with Slither, a horror-comedy he wrote and directed. Clearly enamoured by 1980s "body horror" wave, Slither is an unashamed ripoff of every zombie/alien-bodysnatching horror from the past 30 years. The premise is simple and ingrained in the public consciousness: a meteorite carrying an alien organism crashlands in Smalltown USA and leads to the population turning into ravenous zombies.

If you've seen Night Of The Creeps or The Blob you'll have a fair idea where Gunn's Slither is heading. It wears its bloody heart on its sleeve and is focused on providing a good time for gorehounds and fans of pulp-SF.

Michael Rooker plays wealthy good ol' boy Grant Grant, a somewhat oafish and sexually frustrated man married to local siren Starlet (Elizabeth Banks). Grant is the first victim of the meteorite's E.T cargo; after venturing into the wood's for some nookie, Grant is lanced by an alien egg, later becoming bloated and addicted to meat (particularly local pets).

Nathan Fillion (Serenity) plays Bill Pardy, the town's Sheriff with a soft spot for Starlet since Elementary School, who becomes the likeable hero after his posse discover Grant mission to procreate with local girl Brenda.

Cue lots of gruesome make-up, ripped-open animal corpses, buckets of blood and some nifty CGI slugs. Slither's storyline is predictable, with Gunn taking homages to such extreme that the entire film becomes utterly unsurprising. The characters are stereotypes, although brutish Rooker's implausible marriage to sexy Starlet lends a degree of intrigue and Nathan Fillion is always a fun presence. Gregg Henry also gets a few moments to shine as Mayor MacReady with enjoyable overreactions.

But the real stars are the special-effects, which are ingenious for a relatively low-budget project ($30 million) and rarely disappoint. Fans of the genre will certainly enjoy the parallels to 80s splattery deaths and slimey make-up. The combination of CGI and "real" effects are impressively handled and provide Slither's only moments of note, upstaging the cast at every turn.

To be honest, the prominence of FX is Slither's undoing. The story is overly-familiar territory (intentional or otherwise), while the cast are hamstrung with unexciting characterisations. This leaves the audience to grin as the effects, most puntuated by squirmsome humour: Grant ensuring his hideous mutations are due to "a bee sting", a woman pregnant with alien slugs expanded to the size of a wrecking ball ("something's wrong with me..."), Starlet beating a zombie's head in with a shovel ("bitch is hardcore") and various others.

There's low-brow fun to be had along the way, for sure. Slither is a neat throwback to the age of "video nasties" that should provide nostalgia some and a guilty pleasure for others. The effects are cool, the humour is unapologetically broad, there are plenty of injokes (note character surnames) and an air of creepiness. However, it's also sorely predictable and not as bonkers as the trailer suggests.

Gunn's direction is dependable, but his script could have done with more rewrites to build the characters, add gags and perhaps some twists in the narrative. Gunn's clearly a fan of broad horror (unscary but joyously gross), but his enthusiasm for the material never transcends itself here, marking Slither as disposable 80s shlock two decades late to the party...