Sci-Fi Movie Index

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Slither, 2006. Directed by James Gunn. Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker, Tanya Saulnier, Greg Henry.

Synopsis: A meteor falls in the woods outside the sleepy little town of Deer Creek. So sleepy is Deer Creek that the town's cops amuse themselves by turning the speed gun on whippoorwills. Inside the meteor is a strange visitor from outer space. The first of the townsfolk to encounter this strange visitor is Grant Grant, the wealthiest man in town. Grant has had a row with his trophy wife, Starla, and has been lured out into the woods by bar-skank Brenda, an old flame. From the meteor, a small, worm-like creature enters Grant's body and lodges in his brain. From there, he begins to change. Starla begins to notice that something is wrong with her husband ("Bee sting," he tells her when his body begins to swell and distort). And the neighbors' pets have started disappearing. When Grant becomes violent, Starla enlists the aid of Bill, one of HER old boyfriends and the new chief of police. The hunt is on when Grant vanishes into the woods, but he's up to something more at his hideout. And when the cops find it, all hell breaks loose...

Return to the Past: Well, this was a surprise: a sci-fi horror movie that's actually fun. When was the last time something like this showed up? Five years ago? Fifteen? Hell, I don't remember. It's been a long, long while. In any event, this film is a throwback. It's a film designed along the lines of a nigh extinct idiom. It echoes a LOT of other films, particularly the early films of David Cronenberg, but it throws in a healthy dose of Night of the Living Dead, The Puppet Masters, Squirm, Night of the Creeps, and The Blob for good measure. Unlike other movies that are concatenations of familiar tropes and in-jokes for horror fans, this one has its own identity, thanks mainly to a likable cast and a screenplay that doesn't hate its characters. Which isn't to say that this film doesn't have an instinct for the jugular. It most assuredly does. When last we saw newly-minted director James Gunn, he had written the screenplay for the remake of Dawn of the Dead, a film without shame that indulged in grotesquerie for its own sake. The same impulse that saw him staging a zombie stillbirth in that movie finds him putting alien parasite slugs into the mouths of babes in this one. This film has a higher "eeewww" factor than any horror movie in recent memory. The horror on display in here is almost purely visceral.

Charm: Where this movie differs from its predecessors is in the quality of its actors and in the quality of the characters they are given. From top to bottom, this is populated by seasoned professionals who never once slip into typical bad-movie performances. At the head of the list is Elizabeth Banks, whose trophy wife completely subverts the audience's expectations of such a character. She's charming in her devotion to her husband, even after he's been taken over by an alien intelligence. Nathan Fillion's sheriff is likable in a way that most such characters aren't. He has a raffish sense of humor that infects the rest of the movie. Even Greg Henry's callow mayor moves beyond the stereotype even while it inhabits it. He's the kind of character that the audience would enjoy watching suffer a hideous death in most movies of this type, but he's sympathetic enough throughout the movie that when his demise finally comes, it isn't a cause for celebration. Michael Rooker is the genre veteran in the cast, and he gets to play the monster as a jilted lover, which is a terrific character conception that could have completely torpedoed the movie. That it doesn't is a minor miracle.

Mind you, this isn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It lacks for subtext, for the most part, and exists purely as an entertainment. It doesn't follow you around for days later, stoking your fears or engaging your sensibilities in the manner of a legitimately great horror movie. On the other hand, it succeeds as an entertainment, which is something that many deeper movies never manage. I guess that's a victory of sorts, and "fun" is a value that's greatly undervalued these days.