Wolves are killing machines, the cold is deadly and God is an asshole are the lessons to be learned from survival thriller The Grey. Reuniting Liam ‘I make any movie I’m in awesome’ Neeson with director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team), The Grey is based off of the short story ‘Ghost Walker’ by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers. It’s a decidedly slow burn with horror leanings but the fleshed-out characters and thoughtful dialogue make for a compelling piece that’s part Deliverance and part The Edge.
Neeson is Ottway, a hunter who’s knowledgeable about wolves – it’s his job to protect an Alaskan oil drilling team from harm when they’re working. He’s also a bit of a loner and begins the movie by narrating some depressing sounding stuff that ultimately forms the backbone of the film’s preachy philosophy. Neeson is great as usual while the supporting cast of characters are also well developed and largely able to hold their own against Ottway’s morbid intensity.
Ottway and the team are stranded when the plane they’re on goes spectacularly splat in a bleak, frozen wilderness. Many are killed on impact but the few survivors struggle together to stay alive, contending with starvation, the biting cold and an onslaught of deadly wolves. It turns out that the plane crashed in the vicinity of a wolf den. This is bad news and gives the story licence to have the wolves aggressively pursue and kill off the survivors one by one in typical horror movie fashion. There’s even a big, bad alpha wolf who’s practically a demon of the dark, proving you don’t need to go to outer space to find something truly terrifying.
There’s a strong man vs nature subtext to the story but it becomes a bit overbearing at times. The Grey isn’t a super long movie but it felt long and repetitive. How many times must they set up camp (fire is very important!), sit around talking, get attacked then run for their lives? The story structure is familiar and like so many horror movie monsters the wolves are far more effective when you only get glimpses of them, such as their glowing eyes in the dark or eerie howls in the cold night wind.
It’s all very grim and ends abruptly. Depending on tastes opinions of the ending are probably going to fall into one of two camps: a great talking point for conversation or epic snubbery of the finest order – two hours of buildup with no payoff. It’s clear that The Grey‘s strengths are its characters and setting, and it’s nice to see a movie not afraid to tackle big ideas even if it’s a little heavy-handed at times. In retrospect, Liam Neeson is a reliable anchor and makes the film worth watching, much like Denzel Washington in Safe House. Both actors elevate the material they’re in – perhaps they should face off against each other sometime down the line?
There’s a scene at the end of the credits so make sure you stick around – it’s short but sweet!