DVD Review: Salvage
Christmas Eve: the day when millions across the globe unwillingly flock home in order to celebrate the winter festivities in the company of those with whom they are obligated to do so. This is very much the case for Jodie (Cocker) as she is unwillingly dropped off by her father at the house of her estranged mother Beth (McIntosh). After catching her mother in the throes with a one-night stand (Dooley), Jodie angrily flees the house. Things are already somewhat tense. But then all of a sudden a heavily armed military unit storms the street and orders everyone to remain in their homes. Shots are fired, blood is spilled. Beth has no idea what is going on, or how to get to her daughter.
A parent’s nightmare, for sure, and an eerily plausible scenario played out in a highly realistic fashion. This heightened sense of realism and plausibility is a big part of what sets Salvage apart, and makes it one of the best British horror films of recent memory, and indeed one of the best films of the year thus far. Setting the action almost entirely in a sleepy suburban cul-de-sac (the same Liverpool set that was used in the sadly departed soap opera Brookside, trivia fans), the film immediately plays on those age-old anxieties of neighbourly trust. It’s a vision of a world as viewed behind net curtains, plagued by suspicion and paranoia, in which we are never sure if anyone is quite what they seem.
Key to this are the central performances by McIntosh and Dooley. Two people who are perfect strangers, having slept together after meeting once, they find themselves with no choice but to stick together to stay alive, and in so doing learn far more about one another than they necessarily wanted to, for better and for worse. It’s an intriuging set-up, one which we don’t generally expect to see in a film of this nature, particularly given that both actors are bona fide adults rather than teens or twentysomethings. Particular credit is due to McIntosh (whose work here deservedly won her the award for best horror actress at Texas Fantastic Fest), and to writers Gough and Colin O’Donnell for crafting genuinely layered and interesting characters who clearly have more going on under the surface then a high percentage of horror movie characters. Issues of trust, responsibility and atonement are delved into; again, very adult anxieties, evoked in a very realistic manner.
Indeed, so naturalistic and underplayed is the bulk of Salvage – no fancy editing, no music – that for the large part you’d be forgiven for not regarding it a horror movie at all. As such, the last act of the film, wherein we discover the reason the soldiers are there, may prove to divide the audience somewhat. From that point on we’re in territory that is unequivocally horror, with all the running, screaming, blood and guts that goes with it. Gorehounds may be thrilled by this development, but it may come as a disappointment to those who enjoyed the film’s initial subtlety, with its allusions to contemporary fears about terrorism. To a large extent, allegory goes out of the window by the finale, but in its place we get a visceral and brutal final reel which, while not quite on a par with that of The Descent, certainly evokes a similar energy. Again, much credit is due to Ms. McIntosh, who quite literally throws herself into the loud, physical scenes as wholeheartedly as she does the more quiet, psychological ones.
With the likes of Colin, Eden Lake, and the aforementioned Descent, British horror has been in a pretty good state in recent years, and I’m happy to say that Salvage continues that trend. It’s as topical as it is tense, as intelligent as it is exciting, and all concerned have done a great job. Subsequently, it’s a rather disheartening to see it not getting the theatrical release it deserves. But even so, the DVD looks great, and they’ve put together a nice package with decent extras, including in-depth interviews with all the key players. (Though – ahem – someone perhaps should have told Linzey Cocker that the actress playing her mother is called Neve McIntosh, not Neve Campbell… oh, how embarrassed she must be…)
In short, Salvage is without a doubt one of the best new horror releases I’ve seen this year so far, and Lawrence Gough look to be a writer/director worth keeping an eye on. I highly recommend you check it out.