The howling of wolves seems to echo around you whichever way you turn. They don’t attack, but they let you know of their presence.
“The Grey” is a film about being surrounded. You must learn to embrace all your senses while watching it, or this film will eat you alive.
I admittedly had low expectations for “The Grey” when it was released in early January. The ads gave the gist that it was a movie about Liam Neeson fighting wolves. Awesome.
Well yes, it is. It’s a gross, claustrophobic, allegoric monster movie in everything but setting. A team of ex-convict workers take a job in Alaska and end up surviving a plane crash in the frozen tundra only to be hunted by wolves in their nesting territory.
Neeson plays Ottway, a professional hunter who knows wolves have a scavenge radius of 300 miles and a kill radius of 30. It’s a shame then that he unwillingly leads these 7 men to their deaths. I won’t give away whether anyone actually makes it out alive, but it’s important to know how hopeless they all know their situation is.
“The Grey” deals with survival and vitality by immersing us in intense noise and gritty, disturbing visuals. The sound mixing is relentless, with rustling of leaves and animal life catcalls circling the men not just as a suspense device but as a bleak harbinger of imminent death.
Director Joe Carnahan assaults your senses with jarring smash cuts and bursts of natural sound. When he does this in his previous films “The A-Team” and “Smokin’ Aces,” he does so to fill the void and make the action more fun. Here, there’s nothing amusing about a plane crash that is so intensely disorienting that it plunges you into harsh reality.
The plot itself isn’t exactly believable, but the authenticity of “The Grey” comes from the film’s calming voices amidst the storm. When one character is horribly injured and asks Ottway what will happen, Neeson dodges exhausting melodrama and delivers his blunt death warrant in a soothing whisper. This whole movie surprises you with how much you hear and what all you don’t.
And yet it’s not all doom and gloom either. Neeson and a surprisingly decent cast use language to their advantage, spewing F-bombs and bombastic threats to wolves without sacrificing the ability to acknowledge fate, sanity and morality. And the absolutely thrilling stunts are created through tangible animatronic wolves and actual on-location shooting in Canada’s British Columbia.
“The Grey” is the underrated hit of the year. It’s like a surprise wolf attack: quick, intense and completely unexpected.
3 ½ stars