Grabbers (2012)

Grabbers first published by Little White Lies

“You really are Irish,” says marine ecologist Dr Adam Smith (Russell Tovey) to Garda Ciarán O’Shea, after the local policeman, under the influence of alcohol, has once again acted without forethought. Yet Smith’s national stereotyping is slyly ironised by the fact that O’Shea is played by Richard Coyle, in fact himself an Englishman, and often, thanks to his stand-out role in the TV comedy Coupling, mistaken for a Welshman.

If Smith sounds a tad defensive, he is not the only outsider on the fictional Island of Erin (whose very name encodes the place as a ‘Little Ireland’). Uptight Garda Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley) has just come over from Dublin for a two week posting, there is an impudent Eastern European builder whose unspellable name immunises him against ever getting cautioned by the police, and even O’Shea is, in the opinion of gossipy pub landlady Una (Bronagh Gallagher), just there on “a bit of a sabbatical” while he drinks his way through the loss of his wife. After the closure of the island’s 133-year-old mining industry (commemorated in a newspaper clipping visible on the pub wall), in fact one of Erin’s only viable businesses is tourism. “Festival weekend breaks” and “fishing trips” are promised by a poster that welcomes anyone off the ferry.

If all this sounds like a gentle Irish comedy, having an amiable laugh at the inevitably eccentric locals as much as at the many visitors, and all set in a locale reminiscent of Father Ted’s Craggy Island, then that is exactly what Jon Wright’s Grabbers offers. It is the kind of cosily clichéd view of the Republic, all grassy coastlines and friendly craic, that goes down as easy as a pint of Guinness with those viewers who long nostalgically for the Old Country. American audiences in particular just cannot get enough of this kind of affectionate blarney and heavy (yet never serious) drinking.

Only there is another alien that has just arrived on the island, that will (maybe) disrupt this winsome idyll – a rapidly breeding, ravenous (and, most horrifying of all, teetotal!) thing from outer space that has come to do a bit of its own weekend fishing. It is, or rather they are, spectacularly realised, its/their squiddy oddness both terrifying and kinda cute, all of which makes Grabbers an Irish tentacular Tremors – an icky creature feature with the emphasis on comedy and character, ending (not unlike Shaun of the Dead) in a riotous pub booze-up, with human romance amidst all the extra-terrestrial reproduction.

At first shot wide like an advertisement from the Irish Tourist Board, the camerawork gradually shifts to more intimate, reeling handheld as the beleaguered islanders get more and more hammered on booze in their local – and the climactic battle features an Irish PC who is DUI. The results are a winning combination of small-scale parochialism and big-screen monster mayhem, all filled to the gills with a warm wit. Best seen with a pint or two, and a hidden flask of home-brewed poteen.

© Anton Bitel