ARTS

  /  

April 4, 2006

This stomach-churning film needs to Slither back to where it came from

Slither is being marketed as a comedy. That’s something like marketing Basic Instinct 2 as a romance. I won’t deny that James Gunn’s new movie has a few laughs, but the overall humor-to-gore ratio is depressingly low. Each sequence subjects us to a dozen minutes of some of the most disgusting material ever screened in mainstream theaters, only allowing for a small chuckle at the end. Gunn seems confused about the difference between satire and emulation. At some point, after the umpteenth vivisection, Slither is no longer mocking all the vile, misanthropic horror movies that precede it; it is just plain being vile and misanthropic and, furthermore, unoriginal. As our heroes suffer unimaginably, they sometimes evoke real emotion and at these moments, Slither almost works as a horror movie. But then comes the chuckle, and Slither works as nothing. It is too smug for the violent images it works in and not funny enough to make us forget how worrying this all is. Keep in mind that this is from me, the guy who actually enjoyed House of Wax. Thrice.

The plot is all rehashed, of course, and harkens back to any number of previous gross-outs. The action occurs in Wheelsy, U.S.A., a generic Hicksville where deer season is the only season, and the school mascot is the Cooter. The awkwardly obvious innuendo doesn’t stop there. All the adults in this town have the unfortunate habit of making obscene, bizarrely sexual remarks and then waiting for the camera to zoom out so that we can see that they are in the presence of children. Excuse me while I slap my knee. Once in a while, to mix things up, they make obscene, bizarrely sexual remarks when there aren’t children around. These moments confuse me. Would anyone who went to see Slither still have ears virgin enough to find such remarks shocking and/or funny? Maybe middle schoolers. In that case, Slither will be well attended but lose its actual ticket sales to whatever PG-13 movie is showing in the next theater over.

In any case, Wheelsy is under attack by mysterious creatures from outer space. They arrive on a meteorite, implant themselves in the gut of a local man, and then procreate like mad. The locals don’t take too kindly to this type of behavior. The Police Chief (Nathan Fillion) rounds up a posse and then it’s off into the woods to hunt carnivorous slugs. You may remember Fillion as Captain Mal on the TV series Firefly and its cinematic incarnation, Serenity. As Mal, and here as the Chief, he demonstrates a real knack for injecting wry humor into tense situations. It is much to his credit that I sort of respected his performance even as I despised everything happening around him. As he heads off alone into the woods, another character tells him to be careful. “Yeah,” responds Fillion, “there’s a thought.” It’s not a great line, but Fillion knows how to handle it. The screenplay owes him better quips.

In fact, most of the cast is quite verbally nimble. Several conversations are given an energy they do not entirely deserve. As some of the surviving characters flee a slug-infested area, they break into an argument over whether or not the term “Martian” can be applied generically to extra-terrestrial beings or solely those originating on Mars. That’s funny. It’s not worth watching the movie for, but it’s funny. Later, in a parody (I hope) of product placement, a man screams about how much he needs a Mr. Pibb after a particularly gut-wrenching scene. Also funny.

But each good moment is overshadowed by the endless barrage of bad ones. Slither is yet another unnecessary, ultra-violent, reprehensible, repetitive, stupid horror movie with a tiny injection of wit. The vast majority of its running time is taken up by things no one should ever want to see. It wastes its cast’s time. It wastes its crew’s time. And, appropriately enough, it wastes its audience’s time. I recommend you buy a ticket for something else and then just forget about sneaking into Slither.