With Halloween rapidly approaching, it will sadly be an indoor affair for most of us, given the current circumstances. But have no fear (figuratively speaking), as I have you covered over the next couple of weeks with horror-related articles, where I will revisit an old favourite, review something new, and then cap it off with a list of my favourite Canadian horror movies to watch on Halloween night.
For this week, I decided on an old horror favourite of mine, James Gunn’s 2006 film Slither. I admittedly had not seen this movie for over a decade, but I remembered really enjoying it as a bright-eyed teenager with zero expectations of a pandemic that, at times, resembles an unsettling amount of zombie flicks. While Slither still holds up as a self-aware black comedy horror with the gross-out visuals to satiate even the hungriest of horror fans, there are moments which succumb to genre rot.
Slither takes place in a quiet South Carolina town where a meteorite containing an alien parasite crash lands, eventually infecting local resident Grant Grant (played by Gunn mainstay Michael Rooker, and no, Grant Grant is not a typo). The creature gradually takes over Grant’s body and mind, who is compelled to feast on raw meat and infect others. Grant’s wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) and the town sheriff Bill Pardy (Nathan Fillion) eventually tie several disappearances to him, though nothing can prepare them for what they discover.
James Gunn never truly achieved large-scale audience recognition until his revered work on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy film, which owes its success first and foremost to Gunn’s style and vision, seamlessly combining dark, irreverent humour, action and emotional depth. However, Slither is Gunn’s directorial debut, and thus is the first time he proved himself to be a one-two-punch auteur whose snappy writing pairs well with his directorial sensibilities, proving that he was producing the goods long before Guardians catapulted him to the upper echelons of mainstream cinema.
Perhaps the most notable distinction from his major budget work with Marvel and Slither is the latter’s unabashed B-movie undertones. I am hesitant to label this a zombie movie, yet there is a touch of the mad scientist to Gunn as he splices hints of Roger Corman’s deliberate schlock with George A. Romero’s approach to the undead. However, unlike Romero’s best works, thematic subtext can get somewhat lost in the mix as I could only pick up on allusions to domestic abuse, which even then lacks the necessary conviction.
It is instead Gunn’s comprehension of his characters, and the situations in which they find themselves, that is one of his best assets as a filmmaker. With surprising patience for a comedy horror, Gunn dials up the obscene notch by notch until it reaches eleven, at which point Fillion’s Bill dryly remarks “Well now, that is some fucked up shit.” At that very moment, Gunn’s character echoed what I, and likely many other audience members, were thinking, proving that he is indeed on a similar wavelength to his target audience, something I greatly admire in any filmmaker.
However, occasionally flat cinematography can distract from the otherwise gleeful horror onscreen, perhaps the only aspect of Slither which veers all too close to the B-movies it seeks to emulates, though it is forgivably offset by sharply written characters and an impressive cast. Take Michael Rooker’s Grant, who is an undeniable jerk, yet Gunn’s sympathetic framing of the character adds depth you simply would not find in a B-movie lacking any sense of nuance. Meanwhile, Edmonton native Nathan Fillion shows impressive comedic timing while proving that he has the chops to lead a film on the big screen, which makes his diminished presence in films over the years even more baffling.
Slither is a horror film which showcases all the best hallmarks of James Gunn as a filmmaker, albeit in a manner less refined than his best work on Guardians of the Galaxy. While the influence of genre greats are obvious, Gunn’s directorial debut is nonetheless a marriage of comedy and horror that is all its own, whilst delivering the absurd with the emotional in a manner you don’t often see, but is sure to split some sides…though hopefully not as literally as in the film.