Judge David Johnson used to think space slugs were kind of cute and cuddly thanks to The Empire Strikes Back. Now, after this movie...not so much.
Slug it out.
Troma alum James Gunn makes his directorial debut with this spatterful throwback to the '80s days of gore and humor. Slugs, slime, exploding heads and late-night deer attacks highlight one of the most entertaining genre films I've seen this year.
Facts of the Case
Slither tells the story of a small, out-of-the-way rural town, where the residents only concern themselves with the size of the buck they're going to nab when hunting season begins. For Grant Grant (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger), his major concern is preserving his lucrative business and kicking it with his blonde bombshell of a wife, Starla (the bodacious Elizabeth Banks). But his priorities are about to change; one night, while out in the woods, Grant becomes intimate with an extraterrestrial space slug, which immediately commandeers his body and gradually turns him into a Porterhouse-eating, cow-killing, nubile loogie.
On Grant's trail is the alpha-male sheriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion, Serenity), intent on keeping the town glued together. That task becomes a lot harder when the Grant-monster's slug offspring—numbering in the hundreds of thousands—run wild, leaping into people's mouths and turning them into cannibalistic zombie alien pawns. Next stop: an endgame that features explosions, tentacles and enough slime to drown North Dakota.
Here's the thing about movies. Some are blatantly crap, so awful that their malfeasance is clear to everyone. Others are super-great, giving the viewer a real shot of satisfaction at a couple of hours well spent. The other 96 percent or so reside on that tenuous spectrum where critics and suckers likes yours truly try to tease out their true worth.
What does this all mean? Very little I'm sure, except that Slither is situated on that sliding scale. It's far from awful, but not the homerun I was kind of geared up for. I caught this in the cinema, had a great time watching it, smiled a bit to myself immediately following my exit from the theater, and then pretty much forgot about it. Bottom line: James Gunn's maiden voyage is a lot of fun, but ultimately a collection of empty calories. Those are some damn tasty empty calories, though, and while the film, for me, lacked that wallop that great movies pack, it is absolutely worth a look-see if you're fan of hard-R gorefests laced with dark humor.
Slither is more a horror film than a comedy, but it isn't scary. In fact, the most chilling aspect of the film was trying to picture what it was like for Michael Rooker to spend the majority of his day being outfitted in one of the largest masses of makeup and prosthetics and corn syrup that I have ever seen. People may get squirmy about the slug rampage, but the creatures are obviously CGI—though well-executed CGI, save for a few sequences—and the gore factor is extreme, but that stuff is usually done in a tongue-in-cheek style. For example, one guy gets sliced in half from top to bottom and his intestines come spilling out of his gut, but it's played for a laugh, and elicited plenty in the theater I saw the film in.
Thankfully, there are more laughs to be had, and Gunn's comic sensibilities serve the movie well. Look for the nod to the Toxic Avenger, the almost-but-not-quite theme music from Predator playing as the cops arm themselves for the hunt, and, my favorite, the one-on-one Bill Pardy has with a ravenous deer. Speaking of Pardy and his fellow characters, it helps to have actors like Rooker and Fillion on board, who sell the high jinks with skill. Rooker earns his kudos mainly from the hugely grotesque creature he becomes and the way he tries to force out some humanity from beneath the caked layers of rubber and goop. Fillion taps into some of that charm and spot-on line delivery that made him so great in Firefly.
Finally, I have to give Gunn props for keeping the mayhem (mostly) real. Much of the effects work is straight-up costuming, make-up, animatronics, and old-fashioned red dye and beef cuts. Not much is computer-generated, and the physical presence of the gags and monsters is a welcome alternative to effects conjured on a hard drive.
Universal has released a great DVD. I dig the video presentation, a hearty 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen that pushes the copious blood reds and meaty pinks in the film. The 5.1 surround is potent enough, though I would have loved to hear a more enveloping aural onslaught of slugs.
Lots of bonus features: a great commentary with Gunn and Fillion, a pair of video diaries helmed by Fillion and Troma head honcho Lloyd Kaufman, some tasty behind-the-scenes features highlighting the creature design, video effects work, ingredients to making convincing blood, and a general making-of documentary, a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes with optional director's commentary and a hilarious bit about Fillion and his "closeness" with his character.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I enjoyed Slither, I can't neglect this fact: it is an amalgam of genre clichés and weatherbeaten tactics, spun well by its auteur, sure, but not entirely original in the end.
Some dodgy CGI aside, Slither hails back to the days when horror movies were over-the-top and fun. This is premium Halloween viewing. Probably even better drunken Halloween viewing.
Not guilty. Just clean up your slime trail on the way out please.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with James Gunn and Nathan Fillion
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