A meteor crashes smack-dab in the middle of a small rural community. An extra-terrestrial menace emerges to terrorize the people of planet Earth. A ragtag group of townsfolk band together to survive. This B movie formula was firmly established by the tail end of the Fifties, and was being ruthlessly mocked as far back as the Seventies and Eighties. So what does writer/director James Gunn (an alumnus of the Troma school of filmmaking) bring to his postmillennial spin on the Freaky Invader sub-genre?
Plenty of personality, for one thing. Like Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon, Gunn uses sharp, snappy, stylized dialogue as an immediately-recognizable stamp of authorship. His characters’ rapid-fire quips function as a sort of defense mechanism, a method for coping with the outlandish situations in which they find themselves. And while it’s difficult to imagine “real” human beings exchanging witty banter when confronted with such dire circumstances, an immensely talented cast manages to make every single word sound authentic. Nathan Fillion (who else?) plays the protagonist, Sheriff Bill Pardy, as a lovable, quirky everyman–a nice change of pace from the usual hardboiled hero cops and bumbling, buffoonish bumpkins. At the opposite end of the conflict, Michael Rooker brings some much-needed pathos to the role of the “villain,” Grant Grant; as the bloodthirsty alien parasite twists and warps his body and mind, we catch fleeting glimpses of the decent (if flawed) man beneath the latex, desperately struggling to resist the monster’s influence.
This potent mix of ingredients (well-written screenplay, pitch-perfect delivery) adds up to complete emotional investment. Slither may be a work of parody, but it takes time to make us care about the characters–ensuring that, even as we’re laughing out loud, we’re also sliding to the edge of our seats, praying for that cliche Happy Ending.
[Originally written October 28, 2012.]