“Same again?”

Last night I watched Grabbers, an Irish sf/horror/comedy screened at AFI as part of their annual European Union Film Festival. It’s a fun little confection with a lot of truly sublime shots of the Irish coast. The basic story: A young, uptight lady Garda comes to a remote isle, where she begins a “you’re hideous, I love you” thing with the local ultra-dissipated cop. Meanwhile alien critters are breeding and killing. Their weakness is that they’re allergic to alcohol, so the alcoholic cop must go on the wagon to maintain order while everybody else is locked into the pub to get prophylactically plastered.

People who like this kind of thing (like me) will probably enjoy it a lot! It’s really, really old-fashioned–the unsubtle music is the first hint, and you also get the classic B-horror trick of having one of the characters watch a classic horror movie on TV. It’s got little hints of Attack the Block, Shaun of the Dead, and maybe even The Fog (in the haunting, menacing coastline shots). The funny stuff is funny, there’s chemistry between the romantic leads, and overall the movie has what it wants to have.

What it does not have is a lot of thinking. The man cop’s alcoholism is basically his biggest character trait, and I wondered if we were getting a movie about disaster as the fatalist’s chance to finally change–a disruption of the addiction narrative of despair. Instead we get a deeply sentimental wish-fulfillment fantasy. Every drunk wants to think that eventually there will come one moment when they’ll get the chance to do the right thing when it really, really counts. Like Grantaire in Les Miserables. (Uh, spoilers?) One shining moment of doing the right thing by the people you care about. You may be totally useless from day to day, but in the apocalypse, you’ll get it together and save the day! And after that, the new life can begin.

This… does not actually happen all that often. Habits break slow. Mostly in the apocalypse addicts act like always. David Carr’s Night of the Gun is, among other things, a corrective to the sentimental “I’ll be there when you really need me” narrative. (Also, quitting alcohol cold turkey the way Officer O’Shea does is really, really dangerous! I know it’s just a movie but this plot point was distractingly prettified.)

I suppose I liked the movie enough that I was willing to put up with the sticky sentimentality. But the movie would be smarter and harder-edged if it had avoided it.

About Eve Tushnet

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