Review: “Slither” (2006)
Produced by: Paul Brooks, Eric Newman, Thomas Bliss
Written by: James Gunn
Cinematography by: Gregory Middleton
Music by: Tyler Bates
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Tania Saulnier, Brenda James
Slither is an amusing horror comedy from James Gunn, the director of the indie superhero film Super andfuture director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy adaptation (so expect him to be kind of a big thing soon). Featuring a familiar B-grade horror film vibe while elevating it to a higher, sleeker form, Slither provides a lot of great scares and plenty of familiar yet effectively disturbing moments to please horror aficionados (such as the alien slug’s gradual approach toward a girl soaking peacefully in her bathtub in the poster), but it also cuts through the gross-out moments with plenty of laughs and has a great deal of fun with the concept without falling into the camp category. And though it may be taking on the form of lower rung monster thrillers, Slither also shows that fun horror films don’t have to be straight up satires or mindless gags, with a narrative about faithfulness and trust woven throughout. (Please note that this review brings up narrative parallels, and, thus, contains some spoilers.)
The film takes place in a town in South Carolina called Wheelsy, the kind of town where the local populace knows everything about each other and throws a big ol’ party involving the mayor when deer hunting season comes around. Everyone’s favorite derelict space captain Nathan Fillion plays the town sheriff, Bill Pardy, who still carries a flame for his old schoolmate Starla (Elizabeth Banks). Starla is married to a brute named Grant, who keeps a tight leash on his wife and mostly loves her for what she can give him, rather than what they can offer each other. When Starla isn’t in the mood one night, however, Grant heads out and winds up having a fling with a local girl named Brenda, and the two head out into the woods together, hoping to get some drunken alone time. Of course, they’re hardly alone, and soon Grant finds himself playing host to a recently arrived alien parasite that quickly begins to propagate its kind across the town, starting with Grant’s mistress, Brenda.
The parallels of this alien slug outbreak to rumors spreading about the affair are pretty obvious once you think about them, and the film makes good use of portraying a backwards sort of mentality of a culture that places the man as the dominant force in a family, with the wife serving as nothing more than just a source of pleasure and a vessel for making more of his kind. Being a fairly prominent couple within their community, gossip was already spreading amongst the townsfolk about Starla’s suspected gold digging, as she and Grant, a seasoned car dealer, are hardly the most obvious couple, and now that the slugs are taking over everybody’s brain, they’re all starting to see everything from his point of view.
This extends into the supporting character of Kylie, a teenage girl who is seen as an outsider and a slut, with her family, including her two little sisters, not being shy about airing their disdain for her choices in life, whether they be true or just figments of their own perception. The young Kylie is nearly assimilated along with her family, who are even worse at calling her names now that they have Grant’s slug-babies attached to their brain stems, but she manages to escape, having gained valuable insight into the spreading infestation thanks to her close call, and she joins forces with Bill and Starla in taking down this growing threat. Together, they help Starla overcome her matrimonial Stockholm syndrome, help Bill with his personal inhibitions and prove himself to be a worthy man to Starla, and provide Kylie with the kind of reassurance of her worth that she never got at home.
The message is there, but luckily, it’s also not necessarily pounded into your head like so many of the brain slugs featured within, as one would expect from what is very likely my unusual reading of a gross out comedy horror flick on my part. As I said before, the film is also has several moments of entertaining comedy and plenty of gory, disgusting visuals to slice through any heavy moments of allegory that there may be. One of my most favorite gags involves the hilarious deadpan reading of a somewhat vulgar but euphemistic revelation about the female deputy’s sexual inclinations that I’m just going to let you hear on your own. And regarding the gross out factor, just know that you’re going to see plenty of disgusting but very cartoon-like imagery and violence going on, including a rather gruesome halving of an unfortunate townsperson and Grant’s increasingly hideous and inhuman mutations. His final form is like Jabba the Hut combined with John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s abhorrently glorious in its design. If Slither has any failings, it’s that it’s not exactly sympathetic with any of the townsfolk, aside from the core cast, and you kind of get a sense that the film holds a certain one-sided disdain for people of that particular region, justifiably or not.
It may sound like I gave a lot of the film away, but know this: While the narrative and message are all fairly predictable beats in what is essentially a rather standard B-grade movie that’s been given a second chance, the true value of Slither doesn’t really lie in the message, but more so in the execution. It’s truly hard to explain just the kind of experience that you’ll have with a film like this, but if you’re remotely interested in smart films, horror films, and comedy, and if you don’t mind the three being expertly combined into one film, then giving Slither a go is definitely an endeavor that you should undertake without hesitation. And, really, when I put it that way, you have no excuse not to, right?
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5