Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey,” starring a grizzled, morose Liam Neeson, is well-titled. This Alaska-set survival adventure redefines grim. You name the phobia, it’s addressed here. Fear of flying? Check. Fear of heights? Check. Fear of drowning? Check. Fear of being shredded and eaten alive? Check, and double-check.
Did I call this an adventure? Scrub that, please. This is a wilderness horror story, where, one by one, the victims fairly rush to their gruesome fates. Think Jack London meets John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and you’ll be close to the mark.
"The Grey" plays at Regal Cinema 9 and other theaters.
Neeson plays John Ottway, an oil refinery worker whose job it is to keep scavenging vermin (read timber wolves) at bay with a high-powered rifle. En route to Anchorage for a little R&R, Ottway and a plane full of mostly talk tough guys go down in a storm. Seven ((Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Ben Bray, Nonso Anozie) survive the crash. By film’s end, the “lucky” few will have wished they hadn’t. No sooner than they collect themselves and inventory supplies, they realize they’re not alone. One pair of eyes beams forth from the darkness, then another blinks on … and then another.
“Wolves have a territorial range of 300 miles, a kill range of 30,” explains Ottway, hardly the life of the party. “Hopefully they won’t f— with us.”
Yeah, sure, and the Great White in “Jaws” had nothing on its mind but a little salt-water frolic.
If, like me, you’re into men-against-the-elements thrillers, such as “Touching the Void” and the original “Flight of the Phoenix,” where the blazing Sahara subs for the Alaskan tundra, you’ll love this film. Carnahan, who scored a decade ago with “Narc,” this time takes his camera into the maelstrom where the gale-force winds sound like a garrote being pulled taut . The wolves? Thanks to some fancy editing and superb animatronics, they’re as scary as the predators in “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London.” Needless to say, their bite is every bit as nasty as their bark. The grimmest death? Mulroney’s. Roberts’ exit is straight out of “Sometimes a Great Notion.” The mouth-to-mouth underwater breathing routine didn’t work that time, either.
THE GREY ✮✮✮ With Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts. Directed by Joe Carnahan; scripted by Carnahan, Ian Mackenzie Jeffers from a Jeffers short story. 117 min. Rated R (for profanity, gruesome wolf attacks and makeup effects)