Run, scream, hide – it’s a familiar reaction when set upon by a seemingly unstoppable foe. But new independent Brit monster movie Grabbers offers us another option: drink copious amounts of alcohol. Set in an Irish fishing village on Erin Island, the film follows the locals as they try to deal with both a rampaging monster and their own thirst. We spoke to director Jon Wright about Grabbers, monster movies and more.
Bowlegs: How did the film come about and how long has it taken to put it together?
JW: The script was brought to me by the producers of my previous film, Tormented. It’s Kevin Lehane’s first professionally produced script, so the whole experience has been a rite of passage for him. He seems really happy with the finished result.
Bowlegs: What was it like shooting in Donegal? Did you get any of the locals involved?
JW: Donegal was fantastic. It’s an epic location with incredible scale. The beaches are just enormous, and often deserted. Very beautiful, and not shot all that often – film productions tend to favour different parts of Ireland. The locals took cameos as extras and were very welcoming, they looked after us well.
It’s a notorious area for having bad winter weather, so we were taking our lives in our hands visiting there in January. We were very lucky, all told. We lost maybe three days to bad weather, when it could easily have been thirty.
Bowlegs: There’s a talented group of actors assembled for the cast, some of which are better know for their TV work. Was the transition from TV to film easy for them, or were there stumbling blocks at first?
JW: We cast the actors because they were good, first and foremost, so there weren’t any problems. All the cast put their backs into it and gave it their all, and I think it shows. We had a lot of fun on set, particularly when the whole ensemble were there, and I think you can pick that up that playful mood when you’re watching Grabbers. I’m proud of the performances. Ruth Bradley is a star in the making, somewhere between Rachel Weisz and Sandra Bullock, but Irish. Very photogenic, and a fantastic actress – brilliant to work with.
Clelia Murphy is very well known for an Irish soap opera, which I’ve never seen, and she’s running around screaming at the top of her lungs in Grabbers – she goes for it. It’ll be interesting to see how that contrasts with her TV character – I’ve no idea!
Bowlegs: Which classic monster movies did you draw influence from when making the film? What elements of these influences did you want to incorporate into Grabbers?
JW: Our touchstones were Tremors, Jaws and Gremlins. I’d like to think we captured the flavour of those films in the lively characters, the width of the frame, the invention we poured into the creatures.
There are literal nods to films, but we never edge into pastiche. The whole film is played straight and it wouldn’t matter if you missed the reference, it shouldn’t decrease your enjoyment at all. We’ve sent little twisted love letters to Spielberg, Cameron, Joe Dante, John Carpenter, John Landis … lots of directors. The film is an Irish indie character comedy, that loves 80s big budget American monster movies, ultimately.
Bowlegs: Most monster films stick to a formula, where the monster is slowly revealed over the course of the story, taking out characters in the process. Then it’s fully revealed and causes fear and mayhem, before the final confrontation at the end. Did you follow any form of formula while making the film?
JW: We absolutely follow that formula … I think we have a pretty cool monster. You haven’t seen one quite like this before, so it’s great fun drip feeding it to the audience, letting them glimpse it in all its different forms.
Bowlegs: Is getting drunk really the best way to deal with an alien encounter?
JW: It’s a terrible idea.
Bowlegs: Sleepy fishing village on an island, aliens, booze what could possibly go wrong?
JW: I think the film itself answers that question pretty well!
Bowlegs: What’s been the reaction to the film so far? Are you please with the reactions it’s had?
JW: On balance the reactions have been fantastic. The buzz on Twitter following Sundance was great and we’ve had some amazing reviews. I think it partly depends on what kind of film you’re expecting. We have drunk people fighting weird aliens, but we also have a gentle romance and a slow burning character comedy. It’s not a gory horror movie, and it’s not a gross out comedy – and it could easily have been either of those things, so if you go in expecting that you’ll be disappointed. A critic described it as a long lost Amblin flick, which I think gives you an idea of the mood.
Bowlegs: What’s the greatest monster movie of all time and why?
JW: I watched Jaws a hundred times as a teenager, it casts a long shadow … but it’s got to be Alien. Beautifully shot, a lazy believability to the performances, and Giger’s designs are truly bizarre, like nothing that had come before. That said, there’s so many I love – Carpenter’s The Thing, the first King Kong, American Werewolf, Jurassic Park, the James Whale Frankensteins…
Out of recent films, I thought Troll Hunter was fantastic – a tricky concept taken to its logical conclusion, and great creatures. Best seen in the cinema, the last five minutes were deafening!
-Interview by David Standen-