“The Grey” compellingly captures survival in the wilderness
Survival in the wilderness may look easy on TV, but in all likelihood, surviving the harsh terrain of the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash is much harder. Joe Caranhan’s film “The Grey” not only shows that aspect, but when you put in wolves and harsh unforgiving weather, it’s damn near impossible.
This man-versus-nature predicament falls on a group of Alaskan oil drillers lead by Ottaway (Liam Neeson). Ottaway is a guard charged with the task of defending the rig from wolves and other dangerous wildlife. When the team boards a plane to head home, the unfortunate happens when the plane crashes in the wilderness. From there, it is an endurance test of the highest order as Ottaway and seven remaining survivors of the plane crash must survive the elements of weather, the vast alskan outdoors, and perhaps most the deadliest element; wolves.
Carnahan (an SCC alumnus whose past work includes the very different “Smokin’ Aces”) puts a realistic dim outlook to the Alaskan wilderness, but it’s the way he shot various sequences that illustrate the danger in the wild that makes the film more enthralling, realistic, and scary.
The shots of the harrowing plane crash put the moviegoing audience right there in its chaotic action and put the viewer right next to Ottaway as he holds on for dear life.
Another sequence involves the survivors getting through a river to get across the wilderness. Carnahan frames the sequence as if we are there. As the camera moves between the water, the survivors struggle to swim across, nearly drowning to survive the ordeal.
As harrowing as those two sequences are, nothing compares to the sequences with the wolves. Although they are not as frequent as the ads for the film indicate, when they do appear the tension in these scenes are similar to the shark in “Jaws.” One scene concentrates on a wolf’s eyes, which is guaranteed to bring a viewer nightmares. The wolf’s eyes in their scenes are piercing and the sound quality of the howls brings such distinction and fear that it brings a sense of doom to the film’s characters.
But as much as Carnahan’s direction is a highlight to the film, it’s Neeson’s performance as Ottaway that makes the film much more profound and thought-provoking. Scenes of anguish and the reflection of him living with his wife in the past bring much emotional resonance to the role.
It’s perhaps no surprise Neeson channeled his own real life tragedy from when his wife Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident. The result is a performance that is raw and heartbreaking.
“The Grey” isn’t an action survivalist film; it’s more of a philosophical film about life and death. The film asks if you would keep fighting for your life, and if there is nothing to live for, would you still fight for your life. The questions of existential life are brought to characters’ quest for survival. Ottaway is a man who finds himself fading over the nature of life at the start of the film, and throughout the course of his quest, his will to survive strengthens with each battle, the very scary prospect of death comes closer and closer.
Quite simply, “The Grey” is more of a resonant film about learning the value of life and the acceptance of death. It’s a dark, exhilarating, and rare film that makes the audience question if you are willing to fight for your life.