We've got no funny caption,
we just liked this shot.
It's a good time to be a fan of horror movies; slasher pics and creature features seem to ooze from every media outlet imaginable. You can download them from the web sites of indie filmmakers with an affinity for latex, or catch original Sci-Fi channel movies every week that feature screaming floozies running for their lives from half-baked CGI critters. Entire channels are dedicated to horror flicks old and new. Magazines line the racks offering glimpses of the classic monsters of yesteryear on the same pages as the bogeymen of today. Every so often that rarest of beasts crawls out of the motion picture factory that is Hollywood: a creature feature that manages to both frighten and entertain.
"Apparently I'm allergic to peanuts."
All right, so Slither was technically filmed in industry-friendly Vancouver and the surrounding portions of British Columbia (that's Canada for you geographically-challenged folks), but there's no denying it as a child of Hollywood. Star Nathan Fillion is on the rise after his turn as the magnetically sardonic Captain Reynolds on Firefly and Serenity and leading lady Elizabeth Banks is one of those faces you just can't escape, even if you can't quite place her. (Her credits include The 40 Year-Old Virgin and both of Raimi's Spider-Man movies -- she was Betty Brant, if only for a few minutes.) Writer/director James Gunn wrote both of the new Scooby-Doo flicks, as well as the well-respected Dawn of the Dead remake and, in an interesting twist for the schlockmeisters, Tromeo and Juliet. All of this young and hungry talent comes together with an appreciable cast of character actors to create a film that will definitely raise eyebrows in the horror community.
"Mom, you need to get your money
back from Orkin."
The story is one of small-town calamity familiar to students of horror movies. Such easily-isolated locales make for great scenery, provide the requisite country-bumpkin stereotypes, and are especially convenient when one wants to stage an alien invasion and still have an ending that is more or less a happy one. Sheriff Bill Pardy (Fillion) pines for his erstwhile childhood sweetheart Starla (Banks), who married another man to escape poverty but has managed to convince herself it was for love. Her husband, the comically named Grant Grant (played by the underappreciated Michael Rooker), is a man's man -- at least in his own mind -- and the fact that Starla plays along causes Pardy more than a little heartache. "I'm surprised you can lift a beer, you've been carrying that torch so long," comments one Bill's bar buddies.
Things change when Grant discovers the crash site of a meteorite and is infected by an alien slug creature. In true horror-show fashion, the infection takes its sweet time with Grant (the better to achieve comic affect as he attempts to hide his condition), but is nearly instantaneous in later victims. When we saw this familiar trope we prepared ourselves for letdown in anticipation of a by-the-numbers critter movie, but mercifully Slither turned out to be remarkably absorbing.
"This is Captain Reynolds shoutin' out
to my missing TV series... You out
there, good buddy? Come back."
Much of the credit must be given to Nathan Fillion, whose comic timing has diminished not a whit since Serenity. We've seen an internet site or two refer to him as "the new Bruce Campbell," and we'll agree inasmuch as Fillion has the same sense of humor about himself and seems willing to endure no end of torment to amuse his audience. We hope, however, that Fillion's leading-man qualities will not be overlooked as Campbell's were and that his face will be more familiar to mainstream moviegoers. Campbell was (wrongfully) denied the chance to ever really hit it big in his prime; it would be a shame if Fillion were consigned to the same sort of character-actor status. (We like to think that, had the Internet fanboy network been as strong in Campbell's youth as it is now, The Chin might have had a very different career.)
Next on Nip/Tuck.
As fans of Fillion's, it's tempting to think that his better lines were ad-libbed, but strong writing overall indicates that the jokes came from Gunn and are simply given additional life by the leading man's delivery. Gunn has managed to pull off a feat that doesn't happen often in horror movies anymore: he has made a smart, fast flick that carves out its own space in a crowded genre, celebrating (and occasionally lampooning) the conventions of the genre instead of merely aping them. Most importantly, Gunn has picked the ground rules for the invasion carefully and sticks to them, revealing them to the audience as they are revealed to the characters. In Slither, clever writing meets professional filmmaking and impeccable acting. Movies like these come along just often enough to sustain one's faith in Hollywood. Or Vancouver. Whichever.