The Grey

30 01 2012

I’m usually pretty good at predicting when a movie is going to scare me. The sudden lack of music, the subtle shift of the camera, and the uttering of phrases like, “Is that it?” are all clues that suggest something is going to jump out at you.

The Grey, however, shocked me every time.

Starring Liam Neeson as John Ottway, The Grey isn’t strictly a scary movie. Instead, it’s a survival-horror story about men fighting for their lives after crash landing in the cold, desolate wilderness of northern Alaska.


Ottway works on an oil rig deep in the Arctic Circle. Like many of his coworkers, he prefers to keep to himself. He keeps his head down and quietly does his job, which consists mainly of hunting wolves that try to prey on rig workers.

However, Ottway is dealing with some serious personal problems. His wife recently left him, driving him into a deep depression. He doesn’t see a reason to live anymore, and he contemplates suicide on a daily basis.

While flying home on leave, the plane carrying Ottway and his coworkers goes down, killing most passengers on board and stranding the survivors in the middle of nowhere. Ottway miraculously lives and, as the only person who knows how to survive in the wilderness, appoints himself leader of the ragtag group.

At this point, I was beginning to think that The Grey was just another plane crash movie. I began to make predictions: some of the survivors are going to die, others will live, and one person is going to make some heroic sacrifice that allows the final one or two men to make it to safety.

Fortunately, The Grey isn’t like any survival movie I’ve seen. Before the men have time to set up a campfire, they become surrounded by a pack of ravenous wolves. Ottway, the wolf expert, claims that wolves have a 300 mile hunting range and a 30 mile kill range around their den. If the plane crashed in the wolves’ hunting range, then they should allow the men to pass through.

You can guess what happens if they’re in the kill range.


As the men struggle to outwit the wolves, the combination of desolate winter conditions and raw fear start to chip away at their sanity. Since The Grey made me jump more than most horror movies I’ve seen lately, the adrenaline starts to pump, and the audience ends up feeling like they are there with the men, huddled by a campfire fighting for survival.

Suddenly, each crack of a tree branch gets your heart racing, and each wolf howl sends chills down your spine. These scares force you to pay attention, and fortunately, The Grey is a movie that deserves your attention.

Fear does strange things to the men. Some crack immediately. Others drink. A few put up a mask of false confidence. And some, like Ottway, choose to fight. The motivation behind each character’s actions is revealed in a surprisingly subtle way, and director Joe Carnahan is able to draw plenty of emotions out of the audience by the time the movie concludes.

The characters approach their philosophy in a very ‘real’ way. The men don’t speak eloquently: they’re rig workers, not poets, after all, and this makes the entire storyline more relatable.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another survival-horror movie. But it’s not. With deep, moving characters and a compelling theme about struggling against all odds of survival, The Grey goes above and beyond what I expected of it.

Ultimately, it made me appreciate life a lot more, and it’s easy to see the entire storyline as a metaphor for survival against any adversity. No matter where you are in life, that adversity is something we can all relate to.

4.5 stars out of 5