Set at the frozen ends of the Earth, amongst a desolate Oil Rig made up of fugitives, crooks, and has-beens, we meet Ottway (Neeson), a wolf hunter who is lost and alone, tortured by memories of a past love (Anna Friel). During a flight back to civilisation, their plane crashes in the snowy tundra, leaving eight alive to face nature’s harshest environment – battered, bruised, and hunted by a territorially violent pack of wolves. No time for a snowball fight, believe you me.
Director Carnahan sets his talented stool out from the start, quickly painting the distant and isolated canvas before unleashing what has to be one of cinema’s most authentic plane crash scenes. Skilfully toying with both sound and pacey editing, you’re thrown into the falling cabin with terrifyingly placed off-key losses of sound before sudden bursts of ripping metal forcefully grab your attention by the scruff of its bloodied neck. Then there’s the wreckage. As Ottway stumbles his way through the carnage to find survivors, hearts are in mouths when he discovers and has to calm a terrified dying colleague. It makes for tearfully gripping, but not easy viewing.
Which is to say that The Grey isn’t just action/thriller film. It has heart, punctured and sorrowful yet it may be; each character uncovers personal resentments and regrets in some shape or form over its course. Neeson binds the group together, the torn sticky tape that struggles limply to force them trudging on through the snow as the frozen proverbial hits the fan. He is superb, packing a punch that is as exciting as it is emotional. Yes, his usual grizzly growl is present and ready to rumble, but it comes packaged with grief, as his painful memories fade into reality with an increasingly distorting and heartbreaking presence. Scares are plentiful in the form of the blood thirsty pack of hounds, but they’re hand-in-hand with a deeper fear really resting in the frightening resignation and finality of death as the real wolf at the door.
For those with thrills and horror in mind, The Grey will delight, but what lies at its core is dread, isolation and inevitability. With great support from an unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney (Abduction, Zodiac) and blistering bravado from Frank Grillo (Warrior), the film is an unrelenting dose of death with a brilliantly intense Liam Neeson, who takes the crown in a star turn that reminds us he can comfortably tick the boxes marked pain-stricken as well as those action-packed.