You should see The Grey. I wouldn’t say the theater is a necessity, but this is a film to be enjoyed in pitch darkness with a booming sound system. So, yeah, go see it in theaters. As a survival thriller, it suffers from the ‘natch’es of the genre. Like: natch, there’s going to be a diverse cast and they’re going to get knocked off one by one as we wade through the film for various reasons. Natch, there’s going to be a scene around a campfire where we contrive some reason to connect with the principal cast as they’re being knocked off. Natch, jump scares.
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about how The Grey is totally awesome.
I wasn’t a fan of 2010’s A-Team, also directed by Joe Carnahan, also starring Liam Neeson, and also produced by the Scott brothers (Tony and Ridley), but this is an entirely different animal. The Grey works on intimacy: we are there with Liam’s Ottway as he watches a fight erupt in a bar. We’re there when the plane comes crashing down over Alaska in one of the most intense plane crash sequences I’ve seen. When we watch the survivors trudge through knee-high snow, we’re there with them as they struggle. The film works incredibly well to build this sense of atmosphere and dread as we watch these men throw forward every last limb to simply survive. You are there. The film works with very tight angles and hand-held cameras sure, but where it excels is in the sound design. The film will train you to focus on something visually in silence, then blast you with the frigid cold as it reminds you that this wilderness is a real place.
The Grey makes the winter just as effective a villain as the wolves that watch them for weaknesses, then strike quickly. Whether in the (CGI) flesh or a mere vapor exhale in the darkness, the wolf pack that chips away at them keeps them on their feet often to survive. I’ve always hated horror flicks because the villains really never seem to have a good reason to why they’re so malicious and vile. These are wolves, they do what they want. It makes sense. Neeson is fantastic (of course) as the film’s lead, the outdoorsy sniper who improvises most of the crew’s defenses, who are otherwise bottom-rung employees for an oil company doing dangerous work.
I talked about great films to see in the January cold (for those who live in climes that allow it) when I saw Neeson in Unknown last year. This is that film for 2012.