As you might have guessed by now, The Grey is much more intelligent than your typical thriller - and it’s a more effective film because of it. One of the main themes even deals with the idea of God versus the individual and how faith, or the lack thereof, is an asset or a disadvantage when you’re fighting to survive the elements and keep a fierce pack of rabid wolves from tearing you apart. In these circumstances is self-reliance hindered by faith? Will you fight as hard as you need to if you believe in a higher power that may intervene to save you? Looking at who dies and who survives, Carnahan and his co-screenwriter Ian MacKenzie Jeffers do well to answer that question as well as using it as the basis for Neeson’s most powerful moment in the film - a moment that is probably the essential scene in The Grey.
So, is it a thinking man’s monster movie? Carnahan himself says The Grey touches on the outskirts of horror, and the moments and sequences involving the wolves are certainly crafted with that in mind. Carnahan wants to scare you in these scenes, and the staging, direction, and design of the wolves by KNB (who else?) prove to be very effective. Seeing how KNB usually gets all the credit when they are involved on a film, it should be mentioned that the majority of the wolves are enhanced through CGI by the guys over at Digital Dimension; and they do great work here. The wolves look larger than life, and their wild eyes and mangled fur do well to show that this pack has never been touched by the throes of civilization, making our human characters that much more threatening and foreign to them. The pitch black design of the Alpha male wolf is the closest thing to an actual monster in The Grey, and the standoff between Ottway and the beast throughout the film culminates in a satisfying way, but probably not how you expect if you’ve seen the trailers.
The ending of The Grey reaffirms the point that it is not the typical survival movie: The sum of its parts and its emotional resonance is greater and more profound than a simple man versus nature tale. The result is a film that subverts expectations, becoming a great character piece that isn’t afraid to show real pain and internal agony below the surface of an action film. The Grey still provides some genuine thrills and scares, but it’s ultimately about how a harrowing situation can rekindle the desire and lust for life within a once broken man who was just about ready to throw in the towel.
Oh ... be sure to stay after the credits for an extra scene