-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
cast: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, and Tanya Saulnier
writer and director: James Gunn
95 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
EIV DVD Region 2 retail
[released 16 October]
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
By and large, 2006 has been a diabolical year for mainstream cinema. It's been unusual
in that regard because films that normally would be hailed as gems in an otherwise desolate
creative wasteland have been largely ignored by critics and cinema goers alike. Slither
has the dubious distinction of being one of those films.
Written and directed by James Gunn, a former Troma studios veteran, Slither is set in
the small town of Wheelsy, a cheerfully normal, down at heel blue-collar place where
the Sherriff, Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) is a graduate of the high school and so are
most of the teachers. Only local bigwig Grant (Michael Rooker) is unusual, a big fish
in a small pond, and just smart enough to realise that. Until one night, Grant has an
encounter with something he really shouldn't have and changes their lives forever.
Slither is not an original movie in terms of content or approach. This is the
B-movie as its been made for the last 50 years but it's done here with such style and
energy that the limitations of the genre become positive assets. Gunn's script neatly
combines small town politics and gossip (for example, everyone knows Bill is still
carrying a torch for Starla, his best friend at high school and now Mrs Grant) and no
one cares, especially as hunting season is around the corner. Wheelsy is perched on
that boundary between too small for comfort and too big to leave and all the characters
pay the price for staying there as the film continues.
Exactly what that price is soon becomes clear. Gunn has a clear love of body horror
and the monster here is both unusually subtle and unusually unpleasant. There are
tantalising hints of logic beyond the simple 'terror from beyond space' at work but
what will get your attention is the visceral way in which the monster goes about its
business. There's an early moment where Grant cleans out the meat section of the local
butcher's that hovers on the line between funny and sinister and that's the line the
entire film sits on. One of the highlights is a sequence where the Sheriff's department
and some local hunters stakeout the next likely site of an attack only to be literally
torn apart. It's funny right up until the point where it becomes horrible, the switch
instantaneous and total.
Gunn's script, time and again, provides the film with moments like this. It's consistent,
horrifying and extremely funny, balancing some utterly convincing character reactions with
an unusually well thought out and intimidating monster. Wearing his other hat as director,
Gunn brings these sequences neatly to life with the stakeout mentioned earlier being a
particular standout. Similarly, the finale is both a wonderful piece of comedy, brutally
violent, and one of those rare occasions where the hero is only one of several people who
saves the day. This is a clever script, cleverly directed and normally that would be
However, the cast is so uniformly strong that they manage to improve on what's already
there. Nathan Fillion in particular is starting to make a habit out of being the best
thing in criminally underrated films. His Bill Pardy is a world away from Mal Reynolds
of Firefly and
maintains the same causal physicality and natural humour that Fillion brought to that
role. Here, he plays a man who is the natural hero but is at as much of a loss as everyone
else. Bill's a hero but he's never a perfect one and the film never loses the chance to
point that out. After all, where else could you see the hero of a monster movie get beaten
up by a possessed deer?
Elizabeth Banks, as Starla, the love of both Bill and Grant's lives is equally impressive.
Like Fillion, she's rapidly carving out a name for herself as one of Hollywood's best-kept
secrets, and she is the heart and soul of Slither. Starla is sweet, intelligent and
brutally pragmatic, reacting better than many of the male characters to events and at one
point making a decision that is all the more heroic for how underplayed it is. Banks and
Fillion have a natural chemistry that is great fun to watch and she plays an unusually
strong female lead unusually well. Finally, Rooker himself is typically superb as Grant,
bringing a measure of pathos to the role as well as brute instinct whilst Gregg Henry is
gifted with many of the film's best lines.
Slither, like Snakes On A Plane, is a genuinely great B-movie. It's smart,
funny, horrific, and has a bleak streak a mile wide. It deserved better exposure at the
cinema, and it certainly deserves your attention.