Originally written in April 2006.
With awards season finally in the rearview mirror and some time remaining before the summer blockbusters hit, this is the perfect time for the slimy fun of a movie like Slither. It’s not for everyone, but those who don’t mind a little splatter and gore should find it to be a hoot. It’s noteworthy not just for its lack of scares but for its refusal to try to make moviegoers jump out of their seats. Slither is more comedy than horror, though on some level it is a satisfying entry in both genres.
James Gunn, writer of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and both live action Scooby-Doo adventures—how’s that for range?—makes his directorial debut, crafting a love letter to movies like The Thing, George A. Romero’s Dead films and the infamous, campy Troma pictures. As the screenwriter, Gunn also displays a sharp wit executed by a fine group of actors led by Serenity’s Nathan Fillion.
The setting is the small southern town of Wheelsy, where the biggest event of the year is the start of deer hunting season. Life is slow here. So slow that the local cops waste away the night catching a few Zs or using the radar gun to time the speed of whipporwills. They don’t even notice when a meteorite crashes into the forest behind them.
The unfortunately named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) notices something fishy during an adulterous late night dalliance in the woods. He investigates only to have a strange slug-like creature burrow into his chest. His wife, Starla (Elizabeth Banks, the wild woman from the bookstore in The 40-Year-Old Virgin), quickly suspects something is amiss after he develops an intense hankering for raw meat and neighborhood dogs start to go missing. Soon the slugs have taken over most of the town, while Grant has mutated into something that makes Jabba the Hutt look awfully handsome.
But hope remains for the good folk of Wheelsy. A group led by Police Chief Bill Pardy (Fillion), who has long loved Starla from afar, bands together to fight off Grant. The group includes Starla; the blustering, Mr. Pibb-loving Mayor Jack MacReady (Gregg Henry); Kylie (Tania Saulnier), a teenager who encounters the slugs in a bathtub and gleans some helpful information from them; and a handful of cops, one of whom doesn’t look a day younger than 90. Also watch for Jenna Fischer, better known as Pam from The Office, as—you guessed it!—a secretary.
Gunn starts the movie slowly, establishing the setting and developing the characters. This is an important time, as it shows us Bill, Starla and the mayor as average people who clearly will not know how to deal with the otherworldly situation that is to come. It gives the actors a chance to stretch their legs before they’re covered in blood and goo. Fillion’s dry wit carries the day, showing that even if Serenity’s story continues, he will not be typecast as a spaceship captain. He is a bona fide leading man on his way to becoming a major star. Henry, with a completely different approach, steals a many a scene with his hilarious overacting.
The pace quickens after the hunt for Grant begins. The excitement builds with an unstoppable momentum. There is also a strange, almost touching love story. The laughs keep coming throughout, but Gunn never mocks the films from which he draws so much influence. The jokes come from within the context of the movie.
As horror-comedies go, Slither is no Shaun of the Dead. But if you are a fan of the genre, it’s a film you don’t want to miss.
(Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, and language. 95 minutes.)