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Fantastic Fest Review: Salvage

By  · Published on October 13th, 2009

Terror in the home can be some of the most effective use of fear in horror. We can stay out of the ocean and avoid Camp Crystal Lake, but when the call is coming from inside the house, you have to take it. So it’s clear what the potential for a film like Salvage is – the use of an unknown enemy and a gun-toting military force in your backyard. That potential, sadly, is never brought to fruition, and what results is an ultimately frustrating film experience.

A strange cargo container washes ashore near an idyllic cul-de-sac in Liverpool, and with it comes a strange killer and the full force of the black ops who take over the neighborhood. With a monster lurking in the shadows and the automatic-weapons-wielding force lurking in plain sight outside, there’s no safe haven for the residents, but Beth (Neve McIntosh) is desperate to find her daughter and take her to safety.

The first few minutes of the film are incredibly inviting, pitching the audience directly into the back seat of a car where a father is taking his daughter to stay with her mother for the holidays. Their rapport is sweet, disarming, and it’s clear the love that exists there. Unfortunately, after she’s dropped off, we never see the father again, making the entire introduction almost useless. What makes it completely useless is that we introduce the girl’s mother as she’s riding a near-stranger in her bedroom on Christmas eve afternoon full-well expecting her daughter to be on her way. I’m all for flawed characters, but Beth digs a pretty deep hole right from the beginning which calls into question almost everything else she does the entire film.

The dramatic thrust of the film rests entirely on her shoulders as she searches for her daughter amidst a living nightmare. With a neighbor gone crazy, screaming in his yard with a kitchen knife being mowed down by the military, it’s clear that the black ops aren’t messing around. It’s also clear that what they’re hunting for isn’t messing around either, but for some reason Beth spends most of her time on screen doing only that.

Instead of actively searching for her daughter, which should take a few minutes since she knows where she is, she holes up in her house wasting a lot of time on lame dialogs with the No Strings Attached she hooked up with that morning. He sort of goes crazy, but not really, and then with nothing else to do, they bring a soldier to safety in the house. Fortunately for them, and for the audience, Sergeant Exposition explains to them about the medical experiment gone wrong that now stalks the sleepy little hamlet.

There are a few solid scares in the midst of all the random character development going on – mostly Beth running from an unknown assailant where glimpses are enough to create enough fear to hope the damned thing doesn’t get into the attic with her. There’s also a great environment created when Beth finally gets out of the house and starts looking for her daughter in earnest.

However it’s all squandered behind the almost nonsensical nature of everything else. Beth spends most of the film idle and then, prompted by nothing, begins a heroic search that comes too little too late. In fact, her daughter gives her the finger when she sees her next, but all is forgiven when the two have to hide from the monster.

I realize this may be a spoiler, but it succinctly exhibits the sheer incompetence in making a scary creature. As Beth searches through the house she knows her daughter to be in, she comes upon the sound of someone urinating. In a (admittedly cool) tense moment, her daughter pokes her head out from around a corner – quietly alerting the audience to the fact that it’s not her going number one. That cool moment lasts as long as it takes to realize that the monster is using the facilities. That’s right. The monster is peeing in a toiler. I wondered if the inhuman beast that stalks, blood-thirsty in the night washes its hands. I hope so, because it shortly shoves them through the door in a post-bowl-relief attack.

This film is sadly marred by a low budget that wasn’t used all that effectively. Granted, there are some scare set ups that pay off, but for the most part the character development goes nowhere, and the characters are generally unlikable in the first place. The most glaring problem is with the full force of the military being four or five guys. Leaving aside the logical inconsistency that they kill some people so that word won’t leak (but not others), there’s no shock and awe to their presence so it ultimately becomes more comical than anything else.

With a fascinating premise about the supernatural and the very natural invading a quiet suburb, this movie had a lot going for it, but the pay off is weak, the characters aren’t likable, and it ends up flushing all that good will down the toilet with a healthy dose of monster urine.

The Upside: Neve McIntosh delivers a strong performance for what it’s worth, and the premise is solid.

The Downside: Characters are weak, the story goes nowhere for a long time, and the flick is hurt badly by its low budget.

On the side: The movie was shot on the unused sets from an old British soap opera.

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