Thursday, July 21, 2016

Salvage (2006)

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 like.

“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 watching.

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.

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