Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #343
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 21 June 2009 (Edinburgh Film Festival), 2 March 2010 (United Kingdom)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 79 minutes
Director: Lawrence Gough
Producer: Julie Lau
Screenplay: Colin O’Donnell, Alan Patterson
Special Effects: David Jones
Cinematography: Simon Tindall
Score: Stephen Hilton
Editing: Anthony Ham
Studios: Northwest Vision and Media, Digital Departures, Liverpool Culture Company, Hoax Films
Distributor: Revolver Entertainment
Stars: Neve McIntosh, Shaun Dooley, Dean Andrews, Jessica Baglow, Linzey Cocker, Kevin Harvey, Shahid Ahmed, Sufian Ashraf, Debbie Rush, Ray Nicholas, Ben Batt, Trevor Hancock
Suggested Audio Candy
The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu “It’s Grim Up North”
When I first set off on my fantastic journey as a scribe, my primary consideration was that I had to get out of dodge. The UK horror film industry has had its peaks over the years but offset too often by lengthy troughs and it is too rare that a talent emerges like Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers/The Descent). When he does, he is whisked away Stateside faster than he can count his currency as our modestly proportioned region is little more than a single sperm in a much larger sack and America is the land of dreams after all. Not enough horror is commissioned by the British Film Council and, when a fresh hope emerges on the scene, regional dialect is often enough to ensure that it doesn’t travel well.
Salvage is Lawrence Gough’s first full-length feature and is shot entirely in the legendary Clive Barker’s home city Liverpool. Soap fans may be interested to learn that the cul-de-sac which forms the playground for his tale of terror was formerly known as Brookside Close and will be familiar to all those who dimwittedly invested their spare time into its mind-numbing bi-daily drama. At first sight his film bears an uncanny resemblance to Chris Gorak’s Right At Your Door as an unknown threat looms large, threatening to compromise the otherwise peaceful existence of its residents. Little is initially known of the magnitude of the hazard but it soon becomes clear that national security is at risk as a group of armed-to-the-nines military personnel seal off the immediate area with instructions to shoot first and ask questions back at the morgue.
A curious container has been discovered washed up on nearby shores and there appears to be no sign of any shipping manifest or so much as a consignment number. Could it be a terrorist attack or maybe something far more portentous than even that? That’s for Gough to know and our imprisoned homebodies to find out as their plight for freedom becomes ever-more desperate. Among the lambs all set for the slaughter is single mom Beth (Neve McIntosh) whose estranged daughter Jodie (Linzay Cocker) is stranded across the way in a neighbor’s house cursing her mother’s promiscuity and broken promises. Beth’s one night bed fellow Kieran (Shaun Dooley) is also ruing his decision to sow his seeds so far from his own nest as he too is marooned and swiftly ends up with blood on his hands and no forthcoming answers to any of the numerous posers hovering inside his cranium.
The writing team of Colin O’Donnell and Alan Patterson do well by creating characters who are far more than simple surface-level drones. The unlikely pairing of Beth and Kieran yields stellar results as they begin as practically strangers despite any ill-informed copulation and are forced to learn one another’s intricacies as it becomes clear that sticking together offers their best defense against the nightmare they are attempting to prevail against. Dooley gives a spirited turn as the alpha; conflicted over his actions and desperate to return to his own fold. However, it is McIntosh who shines brightest and her performance is the driving force that shunts the entire story forward. Meanwhile, tertiary characters are merely that; entirely superfluous and easily expendable.
It isn’t all tea and crumpets for Gough’s first foray into feature film territory and, despite a meager 79 minute running time, it almost feels as though there is too much fat on his bones. It doesn’t feel overlong but neither does it feel corpulent so an extra ten minutes wouldn’t benefit the overall experience, but he spends too long forecasting woe and restraining from playing his hand to do anything significant about it once the threat has finally been revealed. The true menace is far too fleeting and the instruments of torment aren’t afforded sufficient time to leave their indelible mark on our subconscious. It’s a shame as other than this one bone of contention, Salvage is a tightly scripted tense affair with much to commend it.
Any allegory or conspiracy theory has been discarded by the final act and, after such a patient and controlled set-up, it all becomes about running like hell, screaming like a banshee, and surviving the onslaught. Another missed trick comes with Beth’s ultimate atonement for enduring an entire evening battling her way back to her daughter. No spoilers here but the brevity of the final clinch, coupled with the abrupt way in which our story concludes, robs us of much of the satisfaction and left me somewhat unfulfilled.
Salvage is yet another decent effort from the British but never quite manages to join 28 Days Later, The Descent and the like at the top table. Everything is in place, all professionals involved give a good account of themselves, but it still lacks that certain je ne sais pas that would elevate it into such inimitable ranks. As a survival horror movie it fares rather splendidly and I would imagine Gough to be enjoying the toasts too much to care a jot about where his film veered off course. But it is no good reaching the finishing line before your opponents if you’re not strong enough to break the tape. Salvage is a good film which, with a little more time in the kiln, could’ve been a great film. In that respect, at least, I came away with mild disappointment.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: A little nudity never harmed anyone although here it is not intended to titillate. However, Gough uses grue as a bargaining tool throughout and the violence, while sporadic, is both brutal and mean-spirited. Injury detail is where he chooses to revel; wounds gape and skin hangs from crude abrasions, more than adequately enough to sate our blood lust.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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