Liam Neeson is a fuckin' Boss.
Technically...The Grey is not really a genre film. But, I would argue that it exhibits many of the same traits of a horror film. Take a Friday the 13th film...for example. Jason stalks a group of campers in the woods...killing them off one by one...until the final girl is left at the end to try and overcome Jason's evil. Same with The Grey. Only, instead of Jason Voorhees...it's a pack of wolves. And instead of the final girl...it's Liam "I'm a bad man" Neeson. More on him in a minute.
The Grey mimics many of the same beats that you would find in any slasher/survival horror film. After all...horror thrives on fear and The Grey has plenty of scary stuff in it. Take the airplane crash scene, for instance. Personally, airplanes are one of my biggest fears. So, I was basically clutching my armrest during that whole scene like my little niece would do during the dog scene from The Thing. Pretty scary stuff and it seriously makes me think twice about ever flying again. The scenes where the wolves show up to eat people closely resemble scenes where a little girl zombie might jump up and bite a man's neck off in a more traditional horror film. The scenes make you jump in the same ways and the overall sense of dread created in the film feels very much like something you would find in a film like The Descent.
Even the gore is pretty damn cool in The Grey. There's a scene that involves a man hacking off a wolf's head with a pocket knife that made me grin from ear to ear.
The premise finds John Ottway (Neeson) at the crossroads of his life with nothing left to live for. He's a sniper for an Alaskan oil drilling crew that snipes wolves before they run up and eat a fellow employee's face. Upon completion of the job, Ottway and the rest of the team fly back home in a blizzard which subsequently sends the plane crashing down in the middle of a cold nowhere. Ottway and the rest of the survivors now race against the cold Alaskan elements as well as a pack of hungry wolves, who would love nothing more than to snack on human flesh, for their lives. It's a brutal story of survival.
It's been well documented that Bradley Cooper was attached at one point to play John Ottway in the film. That is...until the filmmakers snapped out of whatever drug-induced stupor they were in and realized that they needed a man that knew no fear. A man that could strike fear in the heart of any goddamn wolf ready to do battle. A wolf puncher. Liam Neeson answered that call. Or...at least he was available to shoot when director Joe Carnahan asked him to play John Ottway after Cooper dropped out. And the film's much better for it. Could you even imagine fuckin' Bradley Cooper punching a wolf?? Nope.
I absolutely love Liam Neeson. Not as much as I love Rutgar Hauer, mind you...but, the guy is just all kinds of fucking badass. He's a brilliant actor who has found a way to harness his talents into more white-knuckled action films like Taken. His acting lends a real credibility to such films and creates a mood that, not only makes you sit on the edge of your seat as you are watching him, but he also allows you to believe his plight a bit more. Neeson is amazing in The Grey and, just like Taken, is the main reason for investing your time in this film. I was joking with a friend after watching the film...wondering what film studios would have Neeson fight next. A rabid koala bear? A demonically possessed ostrich? Perhaps a satanic cult?
The rest of the cast is pretty good, as well. Dermot Mulroney turns up as Talget. Remember Dermot Mulroney? Frank Grillo was in the Mother's Day remake. He plays Diaz here and shows a pretty decent range of acting as the dude who talks all kinds of tough...until he's lying on his back with the Boss pressing a knife against his throat shutting him the fuck up. All the characters are just there for emotional exchange...kind of like a good horror movie. You know the main character when you see him or her...so, you just kind of play a game of "who's gonna get killed off next" with the rest of the cast.
The Grey is a great cinematic experience. It's brutal and tender and while many have written it off as a real downer of a film, it's much more uplifting than you would think. Especially if you stick around after the credits roll to see who the real Boss is. I know it's only January...but, The Grey may very well be the best horror film that isn't really a horror film of the year. A wolf in sheep's clothing...if you will.
Thanks for reading,