Over the course of a single day, squid-like alien creatures terrorize a small coastal town on a remote Irish island in Jon Wright’s Grabbers, a horror comedy which stands next to Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block as proof of the United Kingdom’s proficiency in the summer blockbuster—one whose unabashed absurdity welcomes rather than forces you to turn your brain off. And that’s a distinct difference. As Hollywood spins its wheels with bloated superhero franchises and adaptations of young adult novels, filmmakers across the pond have honed in on what was once special about summer movie-going in the United States.
Making more than just a few nods toward the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, and Aliens, Wright evinces a clear affinity for mid-’80s Hollywood spectacle. Grabbers is a throwback to Amblin-style sci-fi adventures, its soft focus and sweeping score evocative of early Steven Spielberg. Except Wright, who may very well admire Spielberg, is a less hubristic maker of pop spectacle. Filmed in a total of four separate locations with a cast of just a few, the story is one whose ambitions are ultimately quite modest, which is all the better for a film whose concept borders on the grandiose.
When an up-and-coming Garda officer, Lisa Nolan (Ruth Braldey), is sent to a beachside village so small that it only has one other active patrolman, Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), a recently divorced slacker with a drinking problem, the two begrudgingly pair up. All’s well until a local barfly (Lalor Roddy) claims that he has a sea creature captured in his bathtub. Sure enough, a bloodsucking alien not of this Earth has somehow washed ashore, sending the village into lockdown. Eventually, our heroes learn that alcohol poisons the ghoulies, so they concoct a winning survival plan: Gather everyone at the pub, get them nice and drunk as to avoid being eaten by the monsters, and ride out the night until help arrives in the morning.
The scenarios, so ripe with comedic potential, can be pat (the notion that Irishmen love their whiskey is repeated ad nauseam), while a thinly constructed love triangle, which pits the buffoonish O’Shea against a suave scientist, Adam Smith (Russell Tovey), feels shoehorned into the narrative. And despite the sample gore, the scares are tepid (one wonders what Simon Pegg or Cornish, given their propensity for metaphorically rich creature features, might have done with the material). But the film’s consistently nimble pace and lively performances keep the material from bogging itself down. Devoid of corporate tie-ins and market-driven gimmickry, Grabbers is good, clean genre entertainment, the sort of harmless yet endearing brand of moviemaking seemingly unattainable in today’s Hollywood system.