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rochefort [Film Festival 10.09.09] United Kingdom zombies movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: Lawrence Gough
Writers: Lawrence Gough & Colin O'Donnell & Alan Pattison
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 5 out of 10

"Salvage", a new low-budget, U.K. horror thriller directed by Lawrence Gough, takes place in a small Liverpool suburb the day that a strange cargo container has washed up on a nearby shore. As a testament to what's possible with limited funds, it's yet another confirmation that close attention to story, character and performance will always elevate a movie, no matter what the cash flow. In this particular case, however, the actual horror elements fizzle, and the whole thing comes up a bittersweet bust.

It's Christmas Eve, and Jodie (Linzey Cocker) is on her way to Liverpool to spend the holiday with her estranged mother, even though she'd prefer to stay with her more loving father Clive (Dean Andrews). Moments after Clive drops her off and drives away, Jodie finds her mother Beth (Neve McIntosh) upstairs shagging a stranger; enraged, Jodie ignores Beth's apologies and seeks solace across the street with an old high school friend. Within minutes, soldiers arrive in the neighborhood and force everyone back to their homes without further explanation, cutting Beth off from her daughter, who runs the risk of being shot if she so much as re-enters the street. Now stuck inside with Kieran (Shaun Dooley), the shag buddy whose name she's already forgotten, Beth tries to find a way to get back to her daughter even as shots ring out with regularity and her neighbors begin dying in various bloody ways. When a wounded soldier dives into her house seeking protection, he affirms Kieran's suspicions that the recent events are due to a terrorist attack, but Beth still has her doubts. As night falls and the social fabric unravels entirely, the real truth about what has escaped from the container soon becomes clear, and odds are slim that anyone is going to leave the neighborhood alive.

A well-acted thriller that makes the most of its next-to-nothing budget, "Salvage" adheres to one of the first and most important rules of good horror films by making its characters believable and, flawed as they are, genuinely likable. An extended prologue in which Jodie and her father compare musical tastes is charming and convincing, and when Jodie first sees her bare-ass and red-faced mother the narrative shifts and focuses to Beth for the rest of the picture. The initial effect is sufficiently jarring, since we're forced to stick with the seemingly least sympathetic characters as the stakes rise and the bodies pile up. McIntosh (who won Fantastic Fest's Best Horror Actress award for her work here) and Dooley both get plenty of screen time to put their characters through the paces, first coming off as boorish and selfish, and slowly revealing layer after layer as the crisis worsens. The fact that both of them claw their way back to respectability, and eventually even wounded nobility, is a testament to both the script and the cast, all of whom play their roles with the kind of conviction and vulnerability usually reserved for contemporary urban high drama.

The cast is so good, in fact, that a weird turnabout happens with the key reveal. I won't spoil the twist here, but it's a pretty anticlimactic one, and is executed with a lot less aplomb than anything preceding it. It's so average, in fact, that you'll end up wishing this movie would drastically dial down its horror elements and return focus to the smaller, interpersonal moments. I suppose it's saying something that Gough and his performers nail the knack for good performance that eludes most low-budget filmmakers, but it ends up shining a bright light on just how ho-hum the actual genre payoff is. This is a case where a few less answers might have yielded a standout thriller, but way too much is revealed, and too much is shown of the central threat. And that's a particularly bad thing, since we see only a mere handful of frames of it in the first place; it turns out to be just that uninteresting. Its arrival also triggers a brief but damaging slew of plot holes and lapses in logic, all headed towards a bland shock ending that betrays the tonal sure-handedness of the film's first half.

I'm paraphrasing here, but there's an old saying that it doesn't really matter what happens in the first eighty minutes of your movie as long as you have a good ending, and according to that logic "Salvage" would be a really disappointing failure, especially since the first two acts show so much promise. Overall, it doesn't really work, and I can only recommend it as an early offering from a group of talents who will most likely give us something really special in the future. When it comes to movies, sometimes the learning curve is a strange one. A modest success can yield better money and access to resources, but inherent talent for pace and handling your cast is the sort of thing that money can't buy, so for that reason I'm confident that Gough will, in the work to come, redeem the parts of "Salvage" that I wish he'd left alone in the first place.

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Ben Austwick (13 years ago) Reply

I quite enjoyed this one at Frightfest, and pretty much agree with your review. I thought the ending had a neat little twist though (I certainly haven't seen it done before), couple that with the setting and I'd have given it a higher mark I think - a 6 or a 7.


projectcyclops (13 years ago) Reply

Good review, sums-up many of my thoughts after seeing this at the EIFF. I gave it a 6.5/10, but even then thought that was a bit generous.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Word is Gough wanted something different to be dangerous thing. He wanted a much more terrifying, spine-chilling, deranged soldier or something, but was stopped by the powers that be.

He's working on a fantastic new project now, 'The Drought', which looks incredible.

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