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Slither by James Gunn (dir/wr)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Universal film  
Date: / Show Official Info /

CAST:Nathan Fillion as Bill Pardy * Elizabeth Banks as Starla Grant * Michael Rooker as Grant Grant * Gregg Henry as Jack MacReady * Tania Saulnier as Kylie Strutemyer * Brenda James as Brenda Gutierrez * Don Thompson as Wally * Jennifer Copping as Margaret * Jenna Fischer as Shelby

The unfolding mechanics of the alien invasion-cum-infection are wondrously inventive, disturbing and disgusting, and showcase a good deal of prosthetic effects in an early Cronenberg vein; this stuff is really as good as this stuff ever gets, and it would be a shame to spoil any of these surprises. Suffice to say, Grant develops by shocking stages into a pretty elaborate Lovecraftian monster, which is the operational center of a hive mind composed by thousands of alien slugs; these critters, which you've probably seen on the posters and internet ads for this movie, crawl into people's mouths, latch onto their brains, and control them like Romero zombies. Once they've effectively subdued the town, it's up to Starla and the police chief, her grade school sweetheart Bill (Nathan Fillion, of TV's Firefly) to stop the mutated Grant and (of course) save the world.

I went into this expecting to be pleasantly surprised, as pleasant surprises are already on first-time writer/director James Gunn's resume: Gunn was the uncredited director who built unexpected heart and nerves into Tromeo and Juliet, lending it the extra sparkle that keeps it conspicuously atop the short list of bonafide cult classics in the Troma catalogue. Slither directly refers to Gunn's yeomanship at Troma; in one scene, a background television plays The Toxic Avenger. Slither also refers to, or riffs on, elements from several generations and flavors of SF/horror monster and invasion movies: we get echoes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, and Invaders from Mars in the first couple of reels; as I've already mentioned, the icky alien infection strongly recalls imagery from Shivers and Rabid, the Cronenberg classics; though the monster Rooker grows and changes between every scene it plays in, it never sheds a strong resemblance to Dr. Pretorius in From Beyond; the script's firm grasp of small town American character closely recalls the same element in early Stephen King, and both the overall redneck tone and the relentless clever humor are going to remind everyone of Tremors.

Even so, all these derivative elements are tweaked and twisted enough to feel fresh, even while they strike various nostalgic notes. In fact, Gunn's control over this balance is so exacting, and so accurate, that by the end of the movie, it amounts to having walked a tightrope. And it's true that Slither is unambitious; this is merely a monster movie, a heap of fun, and nothing more. But within this lack of ambition, Slither is a ferociously accomplished film, that bodes astonishingly well for its creator's career. As both writer and director, Gunn is careful, energetic, clever, studied, and attentive to detail, without letting up, with hardly even a momentary failure, the whole length of the picture.

Gunn's touch with actors is remarkable, especially given the kind of low pulp material they're doing here; Michael Rooker, who's long overdue for the recognition he deserves, will be particularly remembered for this performance. Before he gets buried in makeup, Rooker gets to show off a good deal of impressive technique, playing a character Gunn's finely nuanced script carefully turns to reveal unexpected facets in successive scenes. Then, once he's alien possessed, Rooker throws in the best creepy deadpan I've seen in years. (Though no one was in the theater to do so the day I saw this movie, little girls in the back row will no doubt give way to uncontrollable bouts of nervous shrieking when Rooker pops up unexpectedly, making a genuinely wicked scary face. It happens more than once.)

It's rare to have the opportunity to enthuse so unreservedly about a first time director, and his movie, especially when it's a little f/x-driven SF horror picture. Do yourself a favor and catch this on the big screen – I might see it again myself, and that's about as high a compliment as I can pay.

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