The Grey (2011) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : All the Scary Wolves – and more

Above all, “The Grey” made me very grateful to our modern civilization. The nature is surely beautiful to look at, but it is also merciless to its inhabitants. Thanks to our civilization, most of us are fortunately protected from being ground by its ruthless ecological order, and that is one of the reasons why I can write this review wearing warm clothes in a heated building at cold winter night.

The movie is about a bunch of unlucky guys who happen to face one of the harshest sides of nature and have to go through it for their survival. The temperature is below zero even during day. The blizzard frequently slaps them with no mercy. They have little chance of being rescued in the vast area surrounding them. To make the matters worse, there is also terrible menace watching on them. They must do something, or they will possibly meet the end worse than the accident they have just survived from.

They are the employees returning from an isolated oil drilling rig in some remote region of Alaska. The job of Ottway(Liam Neeson), a professional hunter, is protecting other workers from the attacks from wild animals in that area. He is very good at what he is paid for; when he sees a wolf suddenly running toward the workers, he instantly shoots it with cool, precise professionalism. To him or other guys, this place is like the dead end of their lives, and we even see him attempting suicide with his rifle at one moment.

So it is ironic that he later becomes the leader for other few survivors after their plane to Anchorage crashes to the snow field in nowhere. They may survive for a while if they just stay there like the survivors in “Alive”(1993), but there is one big problem; there are a pack of wolves, and it seems these beasts will not be content with the dead bodies. Ottway suggests that they go south for more chance of survival, so they set for their rather hopeless journey.

But the wolves are still preying on them. I must say that the wolves in the film terrified me a lot. Through the animatronics, the trained animals, and some CGIs, the movie vividly presents them as the dreadful creatures of nature not only savage but also creepy. One of the most intense scenes in the movie is when the characters realize that they are surrounded by the wolves in the middle of night; only their glowing eyes are shown, but the sense of dread is escalating along with their gradual appearance in the deep darkness. Even when their fangs are not shown on the screen, their howling in the air has enough spooky quality to scare us. But these are not supernatural entities; they are the vicious force of nature, and that makes them more realistically horrible.

And the nature threatens them not only with wolves and cold weather. The director Joe Carnahan, who wrote the screenplay with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers based on Jeffers’ short story “Ghost Walker”, gives us a despairing but gripping tale of survival with extreme human conditions. Though he previously bombarded us to numbness with the mindless actions in “The A-Team”(2010), Carnahan skillfully controls the horror elements in the story to build the suspense and dread at this time. The movie is not entirely humorless, but the level of tension is never lowered even when we are allowed to see the grim humor inside the characters’ circumstance. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi is excellent with bleak icy beauty – it looks beautiful while reminding us its vast cold harshness inside it.

Liam Neeson has been appearing in several films below his talent for a while(and now he will appear in “Taken 2” in this year), but he always brings considerable seriousness to those movies, and he is again good as a tough guy who knows how to confront the dangers surrounding him and others. As shown through his dream/flashback, Ottway has been haunted by the memory of his deceased wife(Anne Openshaw) with despair, and he has almost lost the will to live. But now, his instinct is stimulated again in the middle of wilderness where he is really on the edge of his life, and others follow him with no choice, because they also want to live even though there is not much future for them even if they manage to survive in the end.

The other actors accompanying him, including notable actors like Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Nonso Anozie, and James Badge Dale, are given less defined characters compared to Neeson, but they are also crucial to the drama. They give their respective characters more humanity and gravity than we expected; they are not the mannequins to be dispatched one by one along the plot. There are some conflicts between them, but they wise enough to stick together for their survival though the chance is pretty low for them. I especially remember one sad scene when one character makes his final choice with intractable logic. Maybe there is still little chance for him, but he knows he is finished, and he chooses to accept that fact along with the inevitable end coming to him. This indeed sounds like a cliché, but the actors make it work, and the movie respects his decision.

“The Grey” is an effective chiller. Its last shot is rather redundant because it exists solely for giving the audiences little relief, but that remains a minor complaint compared to what this terrifying film has built from the start to the finale. It is now mid-February, but it becomes colder again here in South Korea, and I became more conscious of the cold night when I walked out of the local theater right after watching it at last night. I was again thankful for the modern civilization providing me a ride, thick clothes, a warm room where I can sleep. What chance will I have if I am hurled into their situation in the film, as a clumsy, bumbling graduate?

Oh, by the way, when I described its synopsis to one of my lab colleagues a few hours before, he was not so concerned about the wolves. He even joked that they could eat wolves. I’d love to see his reactions while he is watching the movie. Maybe he will propose that we South Koreans also have to make wolf-meat soup along with dog-meat soup, if only for killing them all.

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