Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Starring Neve McIntosh, Shaun Dooley, Linzey Cocker
Directed by Lawrence Gough
Produced as one of three films celebrating Liverpool’s title as EU City of Culture 2008, Lawrence Gough’s Salvage was filmed on a shoestring budget using leftover sets from expired British soap opera “Brookside”. The low budget obviously influenced the very intimate nature of this film, and it’s all the better for it.
The plot concerns the residents of a quiet British cul-de-sac whose lives are turned upside down when a shipping container is washed ashore approximately two miles away. In the beginning, we follow teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) as her dad takes her to spend Christmas with her estranged mother, Beth (Neve McIntosh). Relations are not good among the family, and Jodie would rather do anything else than visit her mother – an attitude which isn’t helped when she arrives to find Beth having sex with a random guy, Kieran (Shaun Dooley, last known to horror fans as the violent father of Brett in shocker Eden Lake). Jodie storms off to stay at a local friend’s home and Beth follows, attempting to apologise. At this point, the street is flooded with armed soldiers ordering everyone back indoors. When Asian neighbour Mr. Sharma appears from his house with a cleaver, covered in blood and screaming in Hindu, he is abruptly shot dead.
From there, panic and paranoia set in as the housebound residents attempt to make sense of the situation. As is to be expected, the shipping container contained something secret, nasty and very, very dangerous; and everyone soon finds themselves struggling to survive amongst the bloodshed – and a military that may not actually be there to help them escape after all.
The basic feeling of Salvage is that of social realist drama meets Alien – like somebody picked up a vicious creature and dropped it in the middle of a Ken Loach film to do its business, and it’s very effective. As soon as the military arrive, the main focus of the film (surprising considering the opening scenes) switches to Beth and her frantic attempts to get to Jodie and ensure she is safe while neighbours die around her. Trapped along with her is Kieran, a very well developed character who turns out to be not only adulterous, but a good “everyman”. He’s a little weak, but protective. He’s also a sucker for terrorist scaremongering, initially accepting the military cover-up regarding Muslim Extremist activity in the close before forcefully realising that they’re dealing with something very, very different. Every character has flaws but redeems them in a number of ways. In a low-budget, intimate flick such as this, characterisation and performances are key, and Gough and Co. have pretty much nailed it.
For the first two thirds of the film, tension is the number one factor. As our protagonists barricade their doors and windows, not knowing what on Earth is outside (or even inside!), you’ll really start to feel yourself being gripped with fear and anticipation. What is this thing? Where is it? What exactly is it going to do? Moving between houses in the terrace via the roofspaces (and occasionally extremely tense trips outdoors – you just don’t know when Salvage is going to throw the monster at you), our characters get to see the bloody carnage that has been waged all around them.
Unfortunately, the second half is where disappointment sets in with the reveal of the creature itself. It doesn’t ruin the movie by any stretch, but a better creature would really have made this far and away the best monster movie of the year. At least it isn’t CGI, anyway. Once you’ve gotten over your disappointment at what the monster is, there’s still a whole more fun to go with one very effective jump-shock and the death of characters that you didn’t expect (and once again, owing to the amount of care put into characterisation and performances, you didn’t want to see dead). A totally “oh, shit!” scene in the final minutes involving a mobile phone is almost worth the price of admission in itself.
Along the way there’s plenty of violence and mayhem, with frenetic camerawork during the monster attacks actually working to the benefit of the film by not providing too good a look at the mediocre creature. A suitably bleak ending echoing Night of the Living Dead brings things to an emotional close. As mentioned earlier, this is very close to Alien in your backyard and certainly a ton more impressive as a British film than another generic football hooligan or gangster flick.
4 out of 5
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