Contains mild spoilers.
Alien Parasites. They're nothing new to the zombie myth and I've reviewed my fair share of films that saw little grubby predators weasel their way into the living and dead to take control. I'll admit though to always feeling a little wary when it comes to little green, err, things infiltrating and mimicking the native population, while all the while working towards the ultimate goal of global dominion. I mean, where the parasites take control of cadavers it's easy to shout zombie; they're reanimated dead and they look the part. What about when the hosts are still alive with their pre-parasitical personality suppressed or even joined with? What if the parasite has introduced a new uncontrollable desire or drive like sex (procreation) or hunger (survival); does an insatiable all-consuming addiction constitute enough of a loss of self, will, ego, being to semantically at least proffer the idea of zombie?
Director James Gunn's horror / comedy / alien parasites land on earth and look to take over zombie flick Slither both tasks me to ask this question while at the same time lets me off the hook completely. Three quarters of the way through the film after watching the very foreign parasite take its first victim, the town big shot Grantford Grant (the brilliant Michael Rooker), successfully find a mate and procreate with Brendalynne Gutierrez (Brenda James) and finally look to step things up spewing thousands of slug like throat guzzling parasitical spermatozoon on the world, Slither did the decent thing and allowed the hosts to die first. The resulting dead controlled by the will of the shared single conscious alien super disease are as close to the modern zombie as one is likely to get; their old selves, other than perhaps access from the new host to memories, are gone; they stumble about like something from a Romero film and they like to feast on flesh.
Slither lists itself as a horror comedy but I always felt the tension, gore and scares outweighed any desire for outright laughter. Ok, alien parasitical take over stories are out there and the film is chock full of audaciously brilliant set pieces that could certainly be seen as uncomfortably funny but there's no throw-away gags or cheap easy farce. The film takes its subject matter seriously but isn't afraid to be playful in a non detrimental way to the core story and atmosphere and it works brilliantly. Nathan Fillon as town sheriff Bill Pardy is the dry wit and hero of the film and arguably does have the lions share of one line quips but again they're never out of place or jarring; in many ways he's the Indiana Jones or Han Solo lightening the mood now and again but never at any expense.
The film has a comfortable cohesiveness, a singular vision, and flows with an effortlessness that signifies a cast and crew who were not only professionally invested but were actively enjoying the ride. All the sequences work, there's no dead dialogue or scenes and all the themes played with work; Gunn has cut and shot the film to perfection. Pacing is on point and the climax is satisfying and not drawn out and even though the central idea of the film is ludicrous it somehow manages to avoid any thoughts that it might be; it's a clever trick and shows it knows what it's doing.
As to the earlier question of whether the increasingly 'alien' but alive Grantford Grant is a zombie I'm happy to leave it up in the air. He's definitely had his self repressed but there's definitely a bit of the old person still there. It's all deliberately vague and disturbing, hinting at a precariously easy malleableness to a definition of self we consider so resolute and absolute. Also, if I start at this juncture including alien possessed films where do I stop? Species and The Thing are obvious starters, but I'd soon move on to any and all films that had someone temporarily possessed by someone / thing else and I'm not sure I'm ready to throw Wrath of Khan with Chekov and Terrell succumbing to Khan's indigenous eels into the mix just yet.
Slither is a triumphant alien parasite spectacular with first rate acting, a tight on point story that never languishes and lavish over the top special effects that manage to avoid ever degrading to farce. I'll admit to enjoying this far more than I expected and I was surprised I'd no memories of ever watching it before which is odd as it's the sort of thing I would have actively sought out. An alien parasite film, with tenderness, scares, laughter and zombies, this is definitely an extra-terrestrial recommendation, 8/10.