Warning: spoilers ahead
Nineteen year old Claire (Lauren Currie Lewis), trying to get through
community college while working in her small town, has a disturbing experience.
Instead of her boyfriend Jimmy (Cody Darbe) who is usually doing this, she is
picked up by a really creepy guy (Chris Ferry) driving Jimmy’s pick-up after
work. The man explains Jimmy couldn’t make it and sent him instead. Not
surprisingly, he turns out to be a crazy killer who cuts Claire’s face off.
At that point, Claire wakes up at her job, to be picked up by Jimmy instead
of the creepy killer. However, her experience wasn’t just a bad dream, for
Claire now finds herself stricken by a feeling of dread, always expecting
somebody to step out of the shadows, always feeling someone behind her, while
the people around her tend to act a bit off. Sometimes, the killer appears again
too, until Claire suddenly wakes up again only for things to repeat themselves
in increasingly surreal variations. Claire does her damndest to find out what’s
going on but the answer to that question might not be one she’s going to
“Indie horror film shot in Ohio in the 2000s” isn’t exactly the sort of
description that makes me run out to watch a film. Certainly, there are some
good to brilliant lower than low budget films around that keep the spirit of the
local/regional cinema of the 70s and 80s alive but more often than not, this
sort of thing turns out to be a film whose only redeeming virtue is that the
people making it clearly meant well.
However, Jeff and Josh Crooks’s Salvage turns out to belong to the
small group of the pretty brilliant ones, avoiding all the pitfalls of tiny
productions. So instead of scenes that go on and on and on struggling to
understand how transitions are supposed to work (or simply what the point of any
given scene is), this is a tightly edited piece that never meanders but always
pushes its narrative forward and its protagonist deeper into things, even though
the forward momentum here from time to time happens by taking a step back.
Instead of actors stiffly ACTING(!), we have a naturalistic and very effective
performance by Lewis, some really creepy stuff by Ferry and generally decent
performances by the rest working with dialogue that just works as things you
believe coming out of these people’s mouths, Mostly, that is – I was not
terribly convinced by the handful of more humorous moments, but these are so few
and far between they don’t matter much.
What does matter is how well Salvage works with some well-worn genre
tropes, given the narrative twist a genre-savvy viewer will expect a further
little turn, making it infinitely more interesting. The writer/directors also
manage for their film what many a mainstream production with a twisty plot often
not even tries to do and play fair with the audience, providing all the
information to understand what’s actually going on well in advance and trusting
their telling of the tale to be compelling enough to keep the viewers who get it
That’s a well-made bet, for Salvage is nothing if not engrossing.
It’s not just the tight editing and clever writing that makes this one so great.
There’s also the sure-handed way the directors make use of the local colour – or
perhaps a lack thereof – of the place where this was shot, making
the surroundings feel like a real dead-end town. This does of course make the
increasing weirdness of the things Claire goes through even more effective, for
they break the rules of a well established reality instead of just being weird
for weirdness sake. Last but not least, the Crooks (which is probably not the
moniker the directors would have wanted, so sorry) are very good at suspense and
horror scenes in the classic style, despite a handful of jump scares clearly
preferring the creeping dread to shouting boo, creating many of the best moments
of horror and excitement here out of of limited visibility, slow movement, and
the knowledge there’s something lurking just around a corner.
Salvage is a truly fine film, is what I’m trying to say, the sort of
film that quickly made me forget it must have been shot on a shoe-string budget
through the power of really great genre filmmaking.