If I’m going to talk about movies, I need to start by talking about my movie viewing habits. There are a lot of films I’d like to see–and I usually know when they’re opening. Sometimes I’ll end up catching a bunch over the course of a three-day weekend. I guess I go on movie binges. When I’m busy, though, I end up catching things when they hit HBO or worse, when I’m on an international flight on a teensy, tiny screen.

When I still lived in upstate New York, things were easier. The theater was five minutes away. A thought of a movie could turn into “Let’s go” and fifteen minutes later we were sitting in the theater with popcorn. Now, with the closest multiplex half-an-hour away, planning is required. And time seems to be less available–gone are the days when I sat in the movie house hallway at the mall all day long waiting for the first show of Return of the Jedi.

There are more diversions here, too. Half-an-hour to the movie theater, an hour to the Philadelphia Ballet or the touring Broadway musicals or Dorian’s Parlor [steampunk!} or anything else in downtown Philly. My movie going is suffering.

And, last of all, when we moved I left behind my best friend Garcia. He was always up for a film, especially a thriller or a horror film. Garcia and I went together to see such notables as The People Under the Stairs and In the Mouth of Madness. My husband’s taste is somewhat more discerning . . . .

I’ve been keeping an eye on development and following the information trickling out by dibs and dabs about The Grey, and was I certain it was something I wanted to see. I was lucky enough to score tickets to one of the advance screenings (another nifty thing about living near a major metropolitan area). So, last week I dragged along my slightly reluctant husband about an hour-and-a-half away to catch The Grey.

the grey movie poster The Grey is a very real film. I shivered just watching it. It was an interesting experience, as in recent years we’ve taken to seeing films in the later part of their releases in mostly empty theaters. This was an advanced screening, and a packed house–a whole ‘nother animal.

The film has a beautiful, quiet almost surrealistic introduction narrated by Ottway (played to intense perfection by Liam Neeson), showing the dichotomy of the harsh survivalist and the introspective, hurting poet.

Once the oil-rig workers have experienced their plane “malfunction” and end up out in the middle of the Alaskan Tundra with limited resources, it turns into something of a survivalist thriller, punctuated by interactions with supernaturally persistent wolves intent on hunting down the survivors.

Bouts of trying to trek through the elements are broken up by excellent dialogue between the characters as they ponder the meaning of life, the existence of god and all of the deep whys behind it all.

Two things make this movie stand out. One is the sprinkling of humor throughout to break the tension. In a half-empty theater it would have been harder to gauge if this was working–in the packed house we saw the film in, I could feel the tension rising, then someone on screen would drop in a zinger (often quite dark), and the whole house would react. You could feel everyone let out the breath they didn’t know they were holding. The pacing is really well done. I think I left dents in my armrests.

But the true star of the film is the performances. The intensity of the portrayals by everyone in the film, starting with Neeson in his leadership role, with absolute standouts by FranK Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, and honestly the entire rest of the cast, makes the film what it is. You watch these characters grow, you suffer with them, and you die with some of them. You grow to care about them–and they are not the nicest guys!

It’s been a week since I saw this one, and it’s still echoing in my mind. I think it will be for a long time.

ETA: Now that the movie has opened, it’s been confirmed that there is a stinger after the credits. This was missing at the advanced screening. When you go see it, make sure you wait around until the bloody end.

It’s also going the around the interwebs that The Grey will be given a limited re-release in October for awards season. Hopefully, the fine performances will be recognized . . . .

Go see it. Sit in the front row if you can (I did). But don’t forget your sweater.

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