If you survived a plane crash only to find yourself stranded in a hostile, frozen environment with no signs of civilization or rescue and with a pack of wolves stalking your every move, what would you do? For myself, I know I would never be in that situation because I have a deep - and I don't think unreasonable - fear of flying so I would not be in the air in the first place. If by chance I were, though, I know for a fact that my survival prospects would be very, very dim. Curling into a ball and sobbing is not the best way to dissuade wolves from eating you.
The seven men in The Grey who initially survive the sudden crash of their plane (including Liam Nesson as John Ottway, a man hired by oil companies to keep wolves away from their drilling teams) are a little more equipped to cope than I would be. Immediately after emerging from the wreckage, they seek out heat, food, and shelter. Besides Ottway, all these guys are members of the drill team so these dudes aren't soft but just because they're more gruff outdoorsmen than pencil pushers doesn't mean they're qualified to survive their present predicament.
Besides the harsh natural elements, the real issue is the pack of wolves that come upon them. Because it's his job to kill wolves, Ottway knows a thing or two about these animals and he knows that if they're close to the wolves' den, then their collective gooses are pretty much cooked so he suggests that the men make their way from the crash site to the woods where they can better defend themselves and hopefully get further from the wolves turf.
Speaking of wolves, even though the advertising for The Grey has centered on the sight of Nesson taping broken bottles to his fists and charging a wolf, in the interest of helping you enjoy the film, I have to say that this movie contains no actual wolf-punching. I won't go too deep into it for fear of spoilers but I can tell you that the ads are incredibly misleading and really do the film wrong. I usually hold the audience responsible for reacting in stupid ways, like hating Drive because it isn't more like a Fast and Furious film. But based on the marketing, it's hard to fault anyone for calling bullshit on The Grey. Which is a shame because once you get past the deceptive way it was sold, it's actually a very good film.
Written and directed by Joe Carnahan, The Grey is a survivalist horror film rather than an action film. This film has gotten advance attention in the genre press and it really does belong under the horror umbrella. For one, you've got the wolf attacks. The many scenes of the survivors being stalked and suddenly attacked by these merciless predators are staged for maximum terror. Secondly, an action film would be about perseverance where these guys MacGuyver their way out of an impossible situation (MacGuyver actually does get a shout-out in one scene) but The Grey is much more grim than that.
I was really struck, in fact, by just how cruel and unsparing this movie is. Characters call to God for help or for some kind of sign, they rationalize that there must be some reason they survived the crash when so many others didn't - that they weren't meant to live through something so catastrophic only to perish in even more brutal ways afterwards - but Carnahan repeatedly slaps down these fleeting bids for spiritually. He always brings it back to physical reality and shitty luck. I doubt if I would give The Grey a second viewing and to be honest, my initial viewing left me feeling somewhat half-hearted towards it, but reflecting back on Carnahan's film I have to say my respect for it has grown.
I just wish that the marketing had represented the film more accurately. Then again, if it had the tagline would've probably have to have been changed from "Live Or Die On This Day" to "You're Fucked." Anything less blunt would leave too many shades of grey.