With a mysteriously immobile tanker looming in the bay and a school of bloodied pilot whales banked on the beach, Garda Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle) is naturally more concerned with the arrival of pedantic substitute officer Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). As they navigate their first few days on the job together – quickly reaching loggerheads over O’Shea’s drinking, Nolan’s city sensibilities and the romantic interests of local ecologist Dr. Smith (Russell Tovey) – the island comes under ruthless attack from a tentacled, razor-tongued, alcohol-intolerant menace quickly dubbed “the grabber”.
Of all the genres, subgenres and hybrid combinations to have graced cinemas over the years, the horror-comedy must surely be one of the hardest to successfully pull off. Rely too heavily on sight gags and one liners and audiences might struggle to take your film seriously, whereas if you don’t pay sufficient attention to the comedic aspects of your movie you might risk compromising its personality. Luckily, the short list of successful examples – Gremlins, Slither, Little Shop of Horrors – grows one longer thanks to director Jon Wright’s excellent Grabbers. For anyone who has seen last year’s The Guard, you will know just what a joy the traditionally Irish sense of humour can be.
Strangely, the first thing that strikes you about the film is not how scary it is (though there are jumps throughout), nor how funny it is (I’m sorry: hilarious), but just how beautiful Wright’s film actually looks. Cinematographer Trevor Forrest has lensed the Irish coastline with reverence and pride, catching the sun in just the right position to really bring the Donegal scenery to life. Whether his camera is pointed at the landscape, a carefully crafted set or the gloopy discharge of one of the film’s slimy antagonists, it does so with the utmost respect and proficiency. This gloss adds impressively to the production values, giving the film an assured and cinematic quality that was perhaps beyond its means – you’d certainly never guess that it was shot during one of the harshest winters the area has ever seen.
Everything about Grabbers is of the highest quality: be it the sterling set design, the exquisitely realised creatures or the accomplished performances of both the film’s principal and extended cast. Coyle and Tovey work up an entertaining rivalry as the local community’s policeman and marine biologist respectively, the latter in particular really making the most of the film’s many lighter moments to steal as many scenes as possible with his scientific struggles in the midst of a superstitious community. However, it is love interest Lisa Nolan – brought to life by the beautiful Ruth Bradley – who will really get you talking afterwards, her textured portrayal of the uptight, procedural and – in one memorable scene at least – drunk city-girl cop is surely the first in a long and lustrous career.
More than anything, however, Grabbers is simply a great movie. It’s well made, brilliantly acted and lovingly shot, drawing you in with roguish Irish charm and likeable characters before making you cringe, gasp and jump back in surprise with its novel creature design and surprisingly spectacular set-pieces. A great way to end the Edinburgh film festival, and a fantastic way to spend any night at the cinema, Grabbers is one of the best horror movies you’ll see this year.