2006Director: James Gunn
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker
n the quiet town of Wheelsy, hare-lipped rednecks, lesbian police officers, foul-mouthed Republican mayors, and a surprisingly racially diverse population co-exist in what can only be described as fantasy Americana. Slither seizes this bizarre conjuration of the United States and systematically lays waste with every horror and sci-fi convention imaginable. Gleefully tossing aside the notion of guilty pleasure, writer-director James Gunn makes no apologies for his tribute to B-movies. Instead, he offers a collection of one-liners, a barrage of gross-out spectacles, and a delightfully implausible plot that lends itself to several disturbing metaphors. Take it or leave it.
The plot: A meteor plummets toward the Earth and lands in the aforementioned Wheelsy. After some Evil Dead II camera-work through the woods, the egg from Alien releases the mind-controllers from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (except these manipulators cause their human victims to break out like The Fly). After some grotesquely scatological breeding takes place, an army of slugs overruns the town (Squirm?), creates zombies (every decent Italian horror film ever?), and emits painful green sludge a la The Exorcist. Unhappily, my knowledge of horror is limited to the basics, but connoisseurs will undoubtedly find obscure references galore.
So, considering the many talents of this alien invader, the human race is basically fucked up the ass, right? Fortunately for small-town America, au contraire! (Hey, if James Gunn gets to reveal a trashy side, then so do I). Our heroes, portrayed with one-dimensional zest by an amusing cast, possess both ingenuity and leftover grenades from last summer’s trout fishing! I can’t guarantee anything save an extraordinarily high death toll, but the gooey death-match is both familiar and satisfying to behold.
Misanthropic to the core, Slither doesn’t pause to weep over any of its victims. Aside from the heroine, Starla, humanity seems a wretched lot. When Starla teaches her biology class about Darwinism, lengthy shots of the gawking, pimply students reveal the nadir of humanity. A superior organism seems destined to overtake this species that, once the god-awful country-western music fades, claps antler horns together in lieu of applause. Even when the camera captures the ideal American family, its members are speedily and unflinchingly reduced to slavering monsters. By pointing out our most embarrassing faults and eerily subverting our best attributes, Gunn paints a scathing portrait of mankind.
Disturbingly accurate in its depiction of human nature, Slither is also genuinely perverse. The sight of slugs swimming toward a woman’s exposed vagina, the ecstatic nature of a ritualistic mating attack, the orgasmic joy as the monster assimilates nude worshippers into its heaving mass: these images all did their part to churn my stomach. The monster’s pleasure is vivid and tangible, and sex has never seemed more unattractive. When Starla’s lecherous husband throws a tantrum after the woman declares that she’s not in the mood, the close-up on his grinning neo-Nazi demeanor parallels the slimy horrors of the monster. Toeing the line between consent and rape, this is a film that captures both the mute horror of the victim and the blissful hungering of a stronger being.
Of course, these fantasies are hardly new territory for the horror genre. A film like Slither, however, has to hit the gut on some level, and the filmmakers have chosen bluntly but wisely. Ultimately, all that the film asks from us is a visceral response. And it’s willing to drag that response screaming from our bowels. The violence and general ickiness are a glory to behold. The sense of humor is hardly refined, or even original, yet it works. Slither is an aggressive movie looking to entertain; one need only be passive before its persuasive charms.