You can probably tell that I watch a lot of movies and because of the context of this site I tend to see a rather large amount of the same kind of movie. There’s a lot of overlap there and you tend to see the same themes visited over and over again. That’s fine, too. I just happen to love watching horror and sci-fi movies and since I’m getting most of these flicks for free these days, I can’t really complain. Not to pat myself on the back too hard but being a celebrated movie blogger has its perks. The downside to this is that I feel like I’ve seen the same movie about a thousand times and I’m often obligated to review these pictures because of my personal code that if I ask for a copy of a review screener, I have to review it.
Such is the case with Salvage. I saw the solicitation come in and I asked for a copy to review based on the admittedly vague synopsis that came with the press release. It sounded fairly original. What I discovered upon viewing it was that I had actually seen Salvage many times over. Not literally, of course. I’m talking about in the metaphorical way that the plot is very familiar and that I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of movies before. It has all the necessary ingredients to be any given siege movie. But here’s the rub, Salvage is actually pretty cool.
Beth and her daughter Jodie don’t really get along since she and her husband split up but she’s doing her best to make amends. When Jodie is dropped off at her mother’s place for Christmas early and busts her fucking some stranger, she freaks out and heads for a friends house. As Beth does her best to win her back, however, British SAS storm the neighborhood and shut the whole place down, confining people to their homes and not saying a word about this little invasion. Now, Jodie is locked up in one house, Beth is stuck in hers with the guy she was nailing and no one is saying anything about what’s going on as the SAS closes off communication and starts shooting everything that moves. Meanwhile, it appears that everyone is killing each other. Why that is is slowly revealed over the running time of the movie.
It really doesn’t get much more cliche than that. We’ve seen these estranged family redemption themes in movies like the Spielberg take on War of the Worlds, the matronly duty theme in Aliens, the government coverup in The Crazies, barricaded in to keep the monster out like in Night of the Living Dead, etcetera. I’m telling you, Salvage is a buffet of well-trodden, very well developed ideas lifted out of other movies and while I might shit on lesser pictures for going there and just mixing and matching common horror concepts, Salvage takes all these familiar pieces and puts them together and makes them work on a very small budget with a very small cast. The secret is in the photography and the early stages of the script where it’s not clear what’s going on. Salvage is an extremely claustrophobic movie, playing on suburban fears of the invisible threat that lurks in the trees and in the shadows. In its best moments, the presiding vibe is one of confusion but once the scope widens and it’s clear what SAS is looking for, the pace loses a bit of steam. It’s inevitable that they have to pull the curtain aside, eventually, but the big revelation is a bit disappointing in that all of the previous ideas were old-school but so well deployed on a tiny budget that the film’s shortcomings become apparent and hard to ignore.
I’m doing my best here not to spoil the big reveal.
Salvage is the kind of movie that reinforces that fantasy that you may have that you, too, can make a movie like this with not a lot of money and a really strong script. This is classic UK horror. It’s sparsely populated with cast and the script is minimalist and tight through most of the picture. Tension builds perfectly during the important build up to the climax and although it hit some significant stumbling blocks on the way to the end which, itself, is pretty clumsy, the ride all the way through is consistently entertaining and a bit unpredictable in spite of its well used plot conditions. The cast is a group of talented actors, too, because this picture wouldn’t work if no one came across as believable and they do in the face of fear, confusion and later, regret.
A good suspense picture is hard to come by as it’s not easy to tell what’s going to put most people on the edge of their seats and while Salvage has its problems, it’s an effectively tense movie shot on a small dime that plays to its strengths. Originality is not its strong suit but it’s a movie that makes the most of what it’s borrowing from other movies relieving it of feeling lazy.