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Salvage

film rating:
disc rating:
companies: Hoax Films,
The UK Film Council, BBC Films, Northwest
Vision and Media, Digital Departures,
The Liverpool Culture Company
year: 2009
runtime: 75′
director: Lawrence Gough
cast: Neve McIntosh, Shaun Dooley,
Linzey Cocker, Dean Andrews,
Shahid Ahmed, Trevor Hancock
writers: Lawrence Gough,
Colin O’Donnell and Alan Pattinson
cinematography: Simon Tindall
music: Stephen Hilton
Reviewed from a screener provided
by Revolver Entertainment
Order this film from Amazon.com

Salvage is due for release on DVD from Revolver Entertainment on July 6th, and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon.com and other online retailers.

Over the past decade the British Isles have become ground zero for modern low budget horror.  Motivated by the success of Danny Boyle’s comparatively lavish 28 Days Later (produced for around $10 million) aspiring filmmakers looking to cut their teeth on the genre have been pouring from the woodwork as of late.  2009’s Salvage follows in the frugal footsteps of The Dead Outside and Colin, and makes for a promising if imperfect feature film debut for writer and director Lawrence Gough.

Salvage begins quietly enough, with teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker, Is Anybody There?) traveling to a quiet suburban cul-de-sac to spend Christmas with her divorced mother Beth (Neve McIntosh, Bodies).  None too pleased with the prospect of spending the holiday with her mother to begin with, things become more complicated when Jodie happens upon the woman in the midst of a casual sexual encounter with Kieran (Shaun Dooley, the Red Riding trilogy).  Understandably perturbed by the sight of her mother bonking about with an unknown gent (and on Christmas Eve, no less!), Jodie storms out of her mother’s house and across the street to spend the rest of the holiday with one of her childhood friends.

Devastated and full of self-loathing at having made such a stupid mistake, Beth heads out the door to make ammends, only to find herself trotting head-long into the unknown.  Without warning a helicopter roars overhead and special forces soldiers rush into the area, forcing Beth back inside at gunpoint and killing one of her neighbors.  Trapped in her own home with a one-night-stand who turns out to be a married man, Beth finds herself suddenly faced with a threat as deadly as it is unknown – a threat to which she refuses to submit.

Filmed in and around a real neighborhood in Liverpool with most of its action limited to the confines of a single home, Salvage plays very well for so long as the mystery of its existential threat is concealed.  Writers Gough, Colin O’Donnell and Alan Pattinson wring good suspense from a minimal premise, creating an environment in which no one – not friends, not family, and especially not the military – can be trusted.  Facts are slim as the drama plays out.  A briefly glimpsed news broadcast reveals that a mysterious shipping container had washed ashore on a nearby beach, something that could mean everything or nothing, and the modern bogeymen of ‘terrorism’ and ‘Al-Qaeda’ are floated as possible origins of the sudden chaos.  Meanwhile the soldiers play their games, and the bodies start piling up in the streets…

While its suspense is palpable and its thrills genuine, I found myself most taken with Salvage’s unexpected depth of characterization – something I’ve simply stopped expecting from contemporary genre pictures.  A quiet moment shows Beth and Kieran contemplating their life choices, hers to put a legal career before her own daughter and his to betray the trust his family has placed in him.  With their anxieties and their regrets, from their uneasy trust of one another early on to the selfless support they show each other later on, the pair remains intrinsically relatable throughout.

The show becomes markedly less satisfying once the nature of the threat is finally revealed, veering Salvage into tired monster-on-the-loose territory.  The monster, a typical warfare experiment gone awry, isn’t nearly so compelling as the unknown chaos that preceded it, and would have fared better had it been hidden away in the shadows for the duration.  When the limp conclusion arrives it leaves viewers wondering what all the fuss was about, and how an army of special-ops forces are incapable of disposing of a monster that meets its demise through the proper application of a fire poker!

A few egregious missteps aside, I was far happier with Salvage than ever imagined I would be.  Lawrence Gough’s direction and Simon Tendall’s digital photography are both tight, leaving me to expect only better things from the former’s bigger-budget apocalypse outing The Drought, slated for release in 2011.  In the meantime Salvage has plenty to offer for fans of financially compromised genre cinema.


Revolver Entertainment is handling the release of Salvage both in the United States and the United Kingdom (where the film saw its home video release on the 22nd of March – that disc can be readily purchased through Amazon.co.uk), and their Region 1 US DVD does a fine job of representing the film in question.

I suspect Revolver has converted from a PAL source for this release (the on-disc running time of 75 minutes, 4 to 5 shorter than what’s listed at the IMDB, would seem to support this) and the interlaced transfer presents with the ghosting artifacts associated with the practice (see the first screen grab to the left).  Otherwise Salvage looks quite strong in its Stateside debut, presenting with good color and contrast and the occasional video noise that’s common for shot-on-video productions.  The crispness of the digital shooting medium is retained and the dual-layer encode is solid.  Viewers have two strong audio options – Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, both in the original English.  There are no subtitles.

Supplements are small in number but stacked in content.  Starting things off is an active commentary track featuring director Lawrence Gough, star Shaun Dooley, and writers Colin O’Donnell and Alan Pattinson, which is well worth the listen for those interested in the production.  ‘Behind the Scenes’ is just what it sounds to be, an assortment of footage shot alongside the production that runs roughly 10 minutes.  Rounding out the supplements are a collection of interviews with the cast and crew, which run for a whopping 44 minutes.  While there is no separate listing, the lengthy spate of interviews is divided into chapters, allowing viewers to easily skip back and forth between participants.  Menus are of exceptional design, just the kind I like to see, and the animated main page is scored with the awesome opening music theme by Stephen Hilton.  Good stuff!

The minor issue of the PAL-NTSC video conversion aside, Revolver Entertainment’s release of Salvage is a solid, respectful package that does a good job of representing a film that did well in the festival circuit and deserves a following on video.  Solidly cast with British TV regulars and competently directed by Gough, Salvage was a nice surprise for this reviewer, who is more than used to genre disappointments.  Recommended!

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