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Salvage (2008)
Director: Lawrence Gough

review by Max Cairnduff

This is a tightly directed, intelligent, and well acted British horror film. It's tense, fast paced and often refreshingly unpredictable. The difficulty with reviewing Salvage is that it works best when you watch it without foreknowledge of the story. For that reason, I'll set out below the opening situation, but I won't be discussing the main plot in any significant detail.

After a short scene-setter featuring a paperboy who witnesses what appears to be a vicious domestic argument whilst on his round, Salvage begins with father and daughter Clive and Jodie (played respectively by Dean Andrew and Linzey Cocker) driving to see Jodie's mother, Bess (Neve McIntosh). It's Christmas, Clive and Beth are divorced, this is Jodie's first Christmas with her mother in several years, and it's plain that she doesn't want to go.

Jodie gets dropped off, but there's nobody to greet her. When she finds a way into the house she discovers her mother upstairs in the middle of a one-night-stand with Kieran (played by Shaun Dooley). Angry and resentful, Jodie runs to stay with a neighbour. Beth goes after her, and as she's trying to get into the neighbour's house a heavily armed special forces team turns up. Things get nasty when Beth's next door neighbour runs out of his house covered in blood and waving a knife, and soon the soldiers are telling Beth and everyone else in the street to stay in their homes with their doors and windows locked for their own protection.

And that's as much plot as I plan to share. The characters soon come up with their own theories as to what's going on. Kieran's convinced that the neighbour was part of an al-Quaeda cell, but could he be right? A container has washed up on a local beach and people have been found dead near the scene, could something have escaped from it? Could something be turning people violent?

The film keeps the audience guessing on these points. Something terrible is happening, but what exactly is unclear and whether the soldiers are there to help or merely to contain the situation isn't clear either. Whatever the truth is, Beth and Jodie are clearly in a lot of trouble.

What makes Salvage so successful is the way it makes you care about the characters. Dean Andrews doesn't have a large part as Clive, but he plays it effectively. Linzey Cocker is excellent as Jodie and the result is a father-daughter relationship which feels real. That's vital, as it means you care about Jodie and what happens to her.

After the special forces lockdown, Beth and Jodie are of course in different houses. The film then focuses on Beth and Kieran, who are thrown together since neither can leave. Both Neve McIntosh and Shaun Dooley are on top form, again making you care about their predicament and making you feel their fear. Kieran's goal is simply to survive. Beth however has a larger problem. To be sure Jodie's safe, Beth needs to find a way to reach her, and that means going outside...

This is a low budget film. The special effects, such as they are, aren't particularly impressive (although the use of the former Brookside set gives the locations a nice sense of suburban reality). The gore is sometimes a little unconvincing. It's not a film worth watching for the spectacle. Equally, because the camera follows the characters if they don't know something the audience doesn't know it either. That means it's sometimes hard to say whether there are holes in the plot or just gaps in what the characters see. None of that matters.

What matters with Salvage is the direction, the camerawork, the pacing and the high quality acting - particularly Neve McIntosh's central performance. It's those things that sell the film. For me, Salvage is everything low-budget horror should be and what it lacks in money it more than makes up for with imagination and commitment. It's a film that deserves to be seen, and that hasn't had the cinematic release it deserves. Let's hope the DVD release picks it up the fans it deserves.

The Salvage disc comes with cast and crew interviews, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and a commentary track.


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