Rewind, Review, and Re-rate: ‘The Grey’: Action Movies Are Not Supposed to Be Depressing

October 6, 2020 Updated: October 6, 2020

R | | Action, Adventure, Drama | 27 January 2012 (USA)

Back when Alaskan governor Sarah Palin was running for Veep on John McClain’s ticket, she proposed legislation and cash incentives to encourage aerial wolf gunning—the controversial practice of shooting wolves from aircraft.

Palin is known be an enthusiastic hunter, so one can only assume this was for predator control; to thin the wolf packs so as to give hunters a better chance to thin the deer, elk, moose, and caribou herds.

It might, however, be the case that Palin proposed that legislation due to having seen “The Grey.”

I Jest, of Course

man stands near downed plane in "The Grey"
Liam Neeson in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

A plane taking vacation-bound oil-rig roughnecks from northern Alaska crashes. Surviving the cold is the order of the day. Surviving vicious wolf-pack attacks is the order of the night. Then the plot quickly devolves to the point where the title could have been either “Dead Men Walking (in the Tundra)” or “All Wolves All the Time.”

6 men walk in the snow in "The Grey"
(L–R) Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, and Liam Neeson in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

There are blizzards, subzero temperatures, pneumonia, and hypoxia. You’ve got your beards with icicles. You’ve got your egregious wolf CGI with overblown horror noise-enhancement.

fake wolf in "The Grey"
A very fake wolf in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

You’ve got the long-dead girlfriend of the main character (Liam Neeson) popping up in dreams (and in his bed); repeatedly whispering, “Don’t be afraid.” Which is fairly ridiculous advice for a person constantly faced with death by wolf mauling or outdoor refrigeration.

man and women under a sheet in "The Grey"
Anne Openshaw and Liam Neeson having a dream-chat in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

Furthermore, you’ve got jumping off cliffs to get away from wolves, only to be eaten on the ground by wolves, after breaking many bones falling through trees.

Then you’ve got your freezing river-rafting, sans raft. Speaking of rivers, there’s also a graphic, foot-caught-in-crevice, shallow drowning. Fun-fun-fun! It’s pure, bone-chilling survival time.

man's face underwater in "The Grey"
Henrick (Dallas Roberts) enjoying a shallow-water river drowning in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

Now, this is, of course, a valid slice of life, disregarding for a minute that the demonized-wolves horror storyline is laid on very heavy-handedly. Such a movie would not be a barrel of monkeys, but it would be a valid story. Even if it were simply a realistic wolf story, it would be more tolerable.

But “The Grey” is utterly bleak. It’s all-suffering-all-the-time; one suffers vicariously in one’s movie seat, and one can’t wait for it to be over. Isn’t suffering vicariously an oxymoron?

Five men trying to sleep in the cold in "The Grey"
(L–R) Nonso Anozie, Joe Anderson, Liam Neeson, Dallas Roberts, and Frank Grillo, in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

As director Joe Carnahan says in the press notes for “The Grey,” “If you’re afraid of wild animals or plane travel, this movie will put you off for a good, long time.” Now, one wants to know—why is that a good thing?

Now, I’m Not Jesting

Demonizing animals like this is not such a great idea in terms our national wildlife. Wolves don’t have egos, but humans do, and some humans hate to be reminded that without weapons and shelter we’re fairly low on the food chain. When reminded, natural predators get slaughtered—look at the random shark-massacring backlash in the wake of 1974’s “Jaws.”

a bloody wolf print in "The Grey"
A giant, fake wolf paw-print in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

When ‘The Grey” debuted in theaters, things did not bode well for the wolves. We’d wiped them out once already, spent a ton of time and effort trying to bring them back, and now that they’re back, all it would have conceivably taken one viewing of the “The Grey” to get us to start trying to make them extinct again with aerial wolf-gunning.

However, the good news is, wolves are making an excellent comeback. So you can unburden yourself of this guilt-trip I’m foisting upon you, and go have yourself a chilling (I only mean temperature-wise) vulpine horror/gore cinematic experience.

But see, the underlying message of the film is fight and die, or quit and die, but either way—you’re gonna die. And the even deeper message might be, “There is no God.” We see God being prayed to as a last, desperate resort by the same character who previously denied God … but God doesn’t show up. That’s just depressing.

The thing about storytelling is that people want to see some change; have some hope. If there’s no hope, they leave the movie theater depressed. It’s missing the point of art (and entertainment) to depress people. Who’s wants to feel depressed watching a movie these days?

“The Grey” does manage, however, to keep one’s wincing attention. If it weren’t for that, it would get one star.

a winter landscape in "The Grey"
An extremely chilly landscape in “The Grey.” (Open Road Films (II))

‘The Grey’
Director: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 27, 2012 (USA)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch