I’ll be honest–I actually don’t think I ever saw a trailer for this, but I heard so many other people talk about it (and saw an interview on The Daily Show), it’s like I had. All I knew was that it was Liam Neeson in a snowy place and there were some wolves. I also remembered somebody mentioned glass bottles as weapons to fight said wolves. And then when the theatrical reviews came out, most said it was better than expected. But what did I think? The film is actually about some oil workers leaving the Alaskan wilderness after their long shift ends. Also there is a skilled wolf hunter and sharpshooter, Ottway (Liam Neeson), who continuously thinks about his wife (Anne Openshaw), as something apparently happened between them that has driven him to suicidal tendencies. But when their plane crashes and only a few survive, it’s up to Ottway to lead them to safety against the freezing temperatures and, yes, wolves.
As you can probably imagine, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this. I expected drama and action, with maybe the action overpowering the drama a bit. I got the opposite. There was very little action, and most of it was personal dramas with some thriller suspense tossed in. Of course, I didn’t mind, as I had no real strong expectations one way or the other. But when you have this kind of movie, you need to have solid characters to root for–and that’s where things get muddled for me.
What the film essentially becomes is a monster movie, but where it’s just wolves instead of monsters. Or perhaps you can say a slasher flick, but wolves instead of serial killers. You have the “body count” characters, just there to die, and you don’t know much about any of them. You have jump scares. Etc. I honestly felt that, at a certain point, this was a horror film, not a drama/thriller. Again, nothing wrong with this… except it keeps bringing it back to the drama, which should be driven by solid characters.
So you’re probably thinking–OK, I get it, the film doesn’t have solid characters or character development. Well… yes and no. It was a very strange situation. I couldn’t tell any of these characters apart. I didn’t know any names, and I couldn’t even latch onto a face and be like “Oh, it’s this character.” I think part of that has to do with the fact they’re almost entirely covered up in jackets and hoods to fight against the cold. There was even a moment where the only character outside of Liam Neeson I could pinpoint just disappears from the movie, and I’m like “Wait, when did he die? Did I miss something? Dammit, everybody needs to stop blending in with each other!” HOWEVER, that being said, I still felt strangely connected to these men. The scenes where they bond, despite any adversity, or anything like that… it really gets you on their side. You root for them. They’re underdogs, essentially (no pun intended). You can’t help but want them to succeed. And by the time there’s only a few of them left, you’re really heartbroken when anything happens to any of them. I can’t explain why, really. It just… happens.
I also give it up to the practical effects the film uses. A lot of people have complained about how everything is CGI–which isn’t really true. They used animatronics/puppetry for the wolves and actually recorded in some subzero temperatures. They might have touched up a few things here and there with CGI, but to have an almost entirely practical effects film in this day and age is admirable. Especially in comparison to crap like Season of the Witch and those god-awful CGI wolves.
In films like this, it’s the ending that can make it or break it. Unfortunately… I’m still undecided how I feel about this particular one. I knew about a minute before the film ended exactly what was going to happen, and I immediately knew I was going to be annoyed by it. And then when it happened, sure enough–I was annoyed. I sat through the credits, and saw the post-credits sequence which semi-sorta made up for it. But on the whole, I’m still not sure how I felt about the ending. And because of that, I really don’t know how I feel about the film as a whole. It was equal parts entertaining and aggravating, cliche and well written, cold and heartbreaking (again… no pun intended on the former). Is it worth a watch? Yeah. Neeson is great in it, and it has some good thrills. But in a movie that’s a lot of build-up, you’re left in an anti-climax that might piss you off.