My new review is for the latest installment of that seemingly never-ending horror franchise, “Final Destination 6”. Obviously, I am joking, but while sitting back and thinking after my viewing of Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey”, it suddenly hit me that the film actually plays out like a “Final Destination” film but done seriously. I guess it is kind-of like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films where everything happens in the “real” world. Here, like the films of the aforementioned horror franchise, a group of characters survive an extreme tragedy that takes the lives of many others. However, from here fate then picks them off one-by-one. The difference here is that the deaths are not super creative and imaginative, nor gory, because while the films do share similar stories, they are interested in completely different things.
“The Grey” is about a group of oil workers stationed in Alaska who all board a plane to take them to their next job. On the plane also is Ottway, a man who is hired to keep the native wolves at bay and stop them from attacking any of the workers. During the flight, something goes horribly wrong and the plane crashes. The entire company (along with the flight crew) is killed with the exception of Ottway and six other men. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, in the freezing cold, the group bands together to find a way out of wherever they are, to get back home to their loved ones. Ottway becomes the unofficial leader of the group when they suddenly realize that the plane has crash landed near the den of a pack of wolves. Being so close to their den, the wolves are not happy with the intruder’s presence, and they will do anything to rid the area of them. After the initial stand-off between the wolves and the humans, Ottway decides the best way to defend themselves from both the elements and the wolves is to head for the trees that they can make out in the distance.
This is a very dark film, both visually and thematically, as what “The Grey” is really about is death and the characters coming to terms with death, and leaving behind everything they hold dear in their life. Obviously this makes the film quite an emotionally sad one. While the marketing for the film suggests that this film is all about Liam Neeson vs. the wolves, it is ultimately misleading. Do not get me wrong, there is still a lot of wolf action, but it is not about one man becoming a bad-ass and defeating an inexplicable number of wolves, rather the film is more cerebral. Ultimately it is about men realizing that their time is up and them accepting that, and understanding the legacy they are about to leave behind. While I joked about “The Grey” being a “Final Destination” film, this is the biggest difference as “The Grey” is about death, while the “Final Destination” films are about the death scenes (which are used for entertainment value).
My expectations of “The Grey” were quite high because by the time the film made it out here to Australia it had an enormous buzz attached to it. Unfortunately these expectations were not met, and while I did enjoy the film significantly, I didn’t feel it was the masterpiece it was regularly being called. In fact, I found it a little repetitive when it suddenly hit me that this was a “body count” film. Once one person died, it was onto the next. Actually that is a little unfair because at least we got to know these characters a little before they passed which made us care about them. My favourite character was Dermott Mulroney’s Talget, who has a beautiful scene where he is talking about his young daughter and what she does with her long hair in the morning. It is during the telling of the story that it suddenly hits him that it is likely he will never see her again, which is so moving. He doesn’t break down, sobbing his eyes out, he just very quietly states “I’m gonna miss that girl”, and it is a beautiful and heartbreaking moment. The rest of the characters are not really that redeemable, Ottway included, and they all have their demons, but this didn’t worry me because these were men pushed to the limit and terrified, the fact that most of them were unlikable seemed quite real and natural.
Liam Neeson plays Ottway, who at the beginning of the film is suicidal due to his wife recently leaving him. He is depressed and no longer wants to live in this world, however, somewhat ironically when he is suddenly not in control of when he may die, Ottway suddenly finds the strength to fight tooth and nail to survive and live again. When watching the film, I was aware of the parallels to Neeson’s own life and I often wondered how hard this film was to make or whether it was a cathartic experience for him. Whatever the case, he is very good in the role, but I must say that I found it quite amusing that the majority of his decisions ended up leading the group into more danger.
Back in 2002, director Joe Carnahan made the character driven thriller “Narc” and got quite a lot of positive buzz for it, that he was suddenly seen as the next big thing. So much so that Tom Cruise hired him to direct “Mission: Impossible III”. When that film started to go into a direction he was not comfortable with, Carnahan made the bravest (and potentially stupidest) decision to leave the project. His next two films were the silly (but enjoyable) “Smokin’ Aces” and the even sillier (I assume, as I have yet to see it) “The A-Team”, so “The Grey” is a return to the serious dramatic thriller that he started his career a decade ago with. He does an excellent job, as he keeps the tension and suspense high throughout the film, which can be hard dealing with such open spaces. He uses the darkness to his advantage, so we always know that the wolves may be out there but cannot see them. However that same darkness does make it a little hard to see everything that is going on at times. I felt that he used sound brilliantly and it especially made it easy to feel the cold that the characters were going through and it made the tension palpable. The only problems I had with his direction was during the wolf attacks, he framed the shots to close, so all we saw was the wolf’s head, and unfortunately he resorted to shaky-cam for these scenes to. He also used a couple of jump scares which I would normally frown upon, but they were done so well that I will let them pass here.
The biggest problem with “The Grey” is the initial decision for the group to leave the wreckage of the plane in the first place. For a film that is so set in “reality”, the filmmakers have not come up with an adequate enough reason for them to leave the plane. In my opinion, they would have been much better off staying with the wreckage for a number of reasons, but mainly because it provided shelter from the weather elements and it would be easier to defend themselves from the wolves at this vantage point. Plus, surely the biggest reason for staying with the plane was if people came looking for survivors, their greater chance of survival would be if they were near the crash site. While that is the biggest issue I have with the film (and I understand there would be no movie if they didn’t leave the plane, they just needed a better reason as to why they left the plane), the biggest strength to the film is its ending. I loved the ending of the film, right down to the final shot. As I was watching, I was thinking that if they finish on this shot, the film would end on a high note, and this is exactly what happened. It should be noted that a lot of people may be disappointed by the ending, but for me, it was perfect. Too many films these days have no idea how to end the story being told, but “The Grey” proved to be the exception here, as I believe they have got it just right.
Overall, while “The Grey” did not live up to my high expectations, I must admit that I still did enjoy the film considerably. Although the film has its faults, this is still a good film, and is a step up from the norm that we regularly receive from Hollywood these days. Interestingly, this is a film that men seem to respond to more than women, and this was certainly the case with my wife and I. She thought the film was pointless and that nothing happened while I was entertained by the psychological aspects of it. At the end of the day, as long as you are not expecting a Liam Neeson vs. the wolves type of thing, I am sure that you will get something out of “The Grey”.