Salvage (2009)

Salvage is a twisting, vicious, intelligent horror film that is let down by inconsistent pacing, confused story-telling and a poor antagonist. Well acted and directed, this is worth a watch despite its numerous flaws. Solid work.

Beth is a bad mother. She has neglected her daughter Jodie, happy for the teen to live with her father while Beth selfishly pursues her career. When Jodie finally returns home for Christmas she walks in on Beth mid-coitus with a total stranger and flees to her neighbours house, hoping to spend the festive period with them instead of Beth.

Upset, embarrassed and desperate to make peace with her daughter, Beth finds herself outside her neighbours house when everything goes horribly wrong. A squad of S.A.S. style soldiers turn up, grab her and throw her back into her house. One tells her to “stay inside, lock your doors, your windows, do not go outside”. Trapped inside her home with her one-night-stand, and something incredibly dangerous going on outside, Beth must go to extreme lengths to reach her daughter and make sure she’s okay…

Salvage has a very interesting concept, a twisting, guess-making idea that stretches itself to the limit without ever becoming too uncomfortable. It is finely directed by Lawrence Gough, a relative newcomer on the horror circuit, creating palpable, eerie quiet in the small cul-de-sac Beth lives in. It feels isolated and lonely from the beginning, and it is beautifully disconcerting.

Once Beth finds herself trapped within her own home, something enters her house through the loft, leaving a bloodied hammer on the floor. She and her one-off shag Kieran realise something incredibly dangerous has been unleashed on the small street, and it becomes a savage fight for survival against man, woman and something else entirely…

Salvage stands out because of the acting and character creation. The initial scene between Jodie and her father is believable and sweet, and bypasses all the expected clichés, showing they actually enjoy each other’s company. Strangely, these wonderful characters are not our protagonists – the father leaves his daughter in the “care” of his ex-wife and then Jodie disappears for most of the film, becoming the unseen goal Beth is struggling to achieve.

Our protagonists surprisingly become a whorish bad mother (Beth, played by Neve McIntosh) and an irrational cheating wimp (Kieran, played by Shaun Dooley), and it’s testament to the great casting, acting and script-work that you genuinely like them and hope for their survival.

Neve Macintosh (seen recently as green-skinned reptile lunatic Alaya in Doctor Who) does very well in a role that was begging to be a strong feminine icon. Despite her being very believable and strangely likeable, the scripting and direction leaves her character hard to relate to. Her confidence isn’t apparent enough, coming across more as a descent into utter madness instead of strength of will and character. Perhaps this is deliberate, showing a mother’s inherent desperation to protect her children, tearing any pre-conceptions aside as maternal instinct kicks in… but it’s difficult to fathom.

Sadly there are a large number of unforgivable flaws in Salvage that, despite the acting and likeability of the piece, noticeably drag the film down from being excellent to being something close to perfunctory.

Salvage does not have many sympathetic characters in it. Once Jodie’s father has left, the majority of the other characters are hugely flawed and tragically unlikable. Kieran is a paranoid idiot who you gradually warm to and all of Beth’s neighbours are unlikeable or dead when we meet them. Writers Lawrence Gough and Colin O’Donnell also paint the military in a bad light. A really bad light. In fact, they make them downright sadistic, heartless, barbaric and close to utterly insane. It’s a little clichéd, and honestly hard to accept.

Surprisingly slow in places, Salvage’s pacing occasionally dips during moments of quality drama, but this subsequently destroys all the tension it previously created. It is also laced with idiot plotting and an antagonist that, once revealed, is no more threatening or undefeatable than a very angry bear, and it baffles as to why a squad of soldiers cannot take it down.

Salvage certainly made me appreciate living in the paranoid trust-broken security haven that is London, as the tiny country cul-de-sac Gough depicts is lonely and isolated, with its patio doors, bar-less windows and easy to access lofts providing a total lack of safety for our two unfortunate protagonists. It is a disturbing environment, well envisaged and used.

Essentially Salvage is a great idea with great characters that doesn’t quite fulfill its potential. Competent, enjoyable, and intriguing throughout, it may lack pace, substance and occasionally logic, but it’s well worth a watch. A solid British horror film.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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