Movie Review: Slither
By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Arts Critic
It's not Ernst Lubitsch, but the space-slug/mutant-zombie fiesta called "Slither" has an actual sense of humor to go with its voluminous alien ook. Director and screenwriter James Gunn wrote the "Dawn of the Dead" remake and, less fortunately but more profitably, the two "Scooby-Doo" pictures. This one is a blood relative of "Dawn of the Dead," which in this case is a fine thing.
It's deer hunting season in Wheelsy, S.C. Little do its townsfolk realize that an antagonist is flying their way at a zillion miles an hour: a slug-infested asteroid, hosting a species of critter hell-bent on interstellar domination.
The rock lands in the woods outside town, cracks open and soon sticks a pair of nasty tentacles into the tummy of its first victim, a local business impresario (Michael Rooker). Before long his wife (Elizabeth Banks), notices a change in her man. For one thing, their sex life improves. Then, side effects: He starts sprouting squid-like tentacles out of his head. "You're just sick, is all," she says. This is the comic strategy of "Slither" in a nutshell - chipper underreaction to the darnedest things.
Like Peter Jackson's "Dead Alive," another really, really gory comedy, "Slither" transforms into a zombie picture as more and more townsfolk get theirs. The film grows wearying in its later scenes, and there's a grating performance from Gregg Henry as the bug-eyed mayor. But at his best, Gunn displays a witty visual streak. At one point, with a vulnerable teenager (Tania Saulnier) in a tub, the camera scoots along the bubbly surface right behind one of the invading foot-long, blood-red slugs. It's suspenseful, and it gets a laugh. Throughout, writer/director Gunn took it upon himself to mess with old formulas in sprightly new ways.
Aside from Henry, Gunn's cast is on a collective wavelength. Banks, whose perkiness carries a slightly demented edge, matches up well with Nathan Fillion, who plays the lovelorn police chief. In the end "Slither" may be too squirrelly and consciously jokey to seduce its target audience, the one continually turning out for dour junk like the "Saw" movies and "The Hills Have Eyes" redux. Yet some of us appreciate an exploitation number whose metaphoric heart is in the highlands, even at its most stomach-turning.
Written and directed by James Gunn; cinematography by Gregory Middleton; production design by Andrew Neskoromny; music by Tyler Bates; edited by John Axelrad; produced by Paul Brooks. A Universal Studios release; opens Friday, March 31. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: R (strong horror violence and gore, and language).
Bill Pardy - Nathan Fillion
Starla Grant - Elizabeth Banks
Jack MacReady - Gregg Henry
Grant Grant - Michael Rooker