"Salvage" is an unexpected new discovery from first time British feature director Lawrence Gough: a raw, micro-budgeted chiller that ekes out terror from between the cracks in the everyday and the mundane and, in the best tradition of a certain disreputable strain of British horror, transforms the unassuming suburban home into the site of wholesale slaughter and disorientating chaos. In this sub-genre, 'Horror' is minted from the surreal sense of dislocation that might come from witnessing the sight of a bloody hand clawing through the letter box of your front door in the morning; or finding a mutilated body poking out from behind the sofa in your living room; and from the idea of something hideous and inhuman skulking over the oven chips in the corner of the kitchen; it's the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the bland with the extraordinary and the unutterable that elevates this quickly-shot and cheaply made terror picture above many of its similarly tightly-budgeted contemporaries. The film's use of natural light and the enforced, grainy aesthetics of the HDV format may bespeak the near ubiquitous "28 Days Later" style of modern, shaky-camed & video-shot British horrors, and the vested, begrimed and gutsy heroine of the piece - played with utter commitment by the wonderful Neve Mcintosh - could slot right in with the protagonists of Neil Marshall's "The Descent" (the films share a certain sensibility despite their very different settings) but Gough and his screenwriter Colin O'Donnell are harking back to themes that can be found in the work of Pete Walker during the '70s; themes that also bring to mind such inauspicious fare as Tigon Films' slightly dodgy "The Beast in the Cellar" (where Beryl Read is hiding something nasty in the basement of her chintz-draped home) and 1981 cult BBC TV production "The Nightmare Man".
The "Salvage" team have gone the extra mile when it comes to bringing about audience identification with the unassuming cul-de-sac location that provides the backdrop to the catastrophic events of the movie - at least for UK viewers of a certain age. The story was filmed on the same site as the Channel 4 soap opera "Brookside", which ran for 21 years between November 1982 and November 2003. The soap was unique for its time in that it was filmed in-and-around real houses on a real street development acquired by the producers for the express purpose of avoiding the flimsy studio set feel of traditional soap drama, and was seen week-in week-out by millions of viewers. Although the director and his cinematographer work hard to avoid shooting from the recognisable, well-used angles of their famous predecessor, even without overt awareness of the location a subliminal frisson of recognition is bound to percolate through the viewer's subconscious, and in any case, the street was chosen as the site of the original soap opera precisely because it was so utterly typical of suburban streets all over the country; it means the film also carries the same charge of contemporary 'realness' about it. The authentic-looking production design on the house interiors only enforces the sense that this could all be happening in your own front room - even though the events take on an increasingly macabre flavour as the film progresses.
The film is structurally quite unusual. Initially it presents us with teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) and her affable roughish dad Clive en route to Liverpool where the girl is having to spend Christmas with her estranged mother, Beth (Neve Mcintosh) - despite Jodie's marked reluctance to go anywhere near her. Things don't exactly get off to a fantastic start between mother and daughter when dad drops his girl off and, finding the spare key under the plant pot, Jodie lets herself into the house, snoops around then accidentally barges in on mum having full-on naked rumpy pumpy with a one night stand! Stomping off in a well-earned huff, Jodie absconds to her best friend's house a few yards across the road, Beth having got things together enough to pull on a flimsy dressing gown while in pursuit, but not enough to deal with the ever-so-smug and condescending mother of her daughter's best friend, who sarcastically commends Beth's model parenting skills but refuses to give up the sulking offspring! Beth returns to the house and is no mood to deal with her portly conquest of the previous night, Kieran, (Sean Dooley) - generously offering him use of the shower, then advising him to sling his hook forthwith.
However, before the uneasy morning-after-the-night-before silences and recriminations can begin in earnest, army helicopters are suddenly swooping overhead and a unit of black-clad military operatives descending upon the close wielding high-velocity rifles with telescopic sights. They shoot dead Beth's raving, blood-soaked Asian next-door neighbour Mr Sharma in a tense stand-off. Kieran soon starts on about terrorist suicide bombers and al Qaeda, (even though Mr Sharma was Hindu!) but that doesn't stop a bunch of the soldiers also bursting in and forcing him and a hysterical Beth to the floor of the house at gunpoint, commanding them to draw all the curtains, lock all the doors and stay inside - or risk being shot on sight! Beth becomes desperate to escape the house and be reunited with her daughter who is still across the road, but as the tension and confusion continues to mount, she and Kieran hear a loud thump come from upstairs, and then something moving about in the bedroom ...
The film now becomes essentially a two-hander between Mcintosh and Dooley, and a stark comment on fear, paranoia and prejudice as well as social control. The domestic sphere is increasingly disrupted as the tension and the sudden jolts increase in frequency and intensity, Beth managing to reach the home of her next-door neighbour at one point, only to find a portion of someone's scalp left dangling amongst the wreaked ruins of the once pristine kitchen. One of the major themes of the film comes from an expansion of an idea used in a short film Gough made a few years previously called "The Replacement", which dealt with a covert military experiment. The director based part of the scenario on the aftermath of the Branscome Incident, in which scavengers raided beached shipping cargo to steal goods such as BMW motorbikes. Gough wondered what if something dangerous had been part of the haul instead, and spun out the story from there. In the film, Beth and Kieran watch a TV report that tells of a washed-up cargo container on a nearby beach and of a "scene of awful carnage" that has occurred near the site. Then the power goes off and they, and everybody else in the close, are left trapped behind their front doors with only their imaginations to inform them as to what is really going on. All Beth knows is that, whatever she has been told, she must get across the road and find her daughter. It's this theme that is at the heart of the film's emotional appeal. It's hardly original, but with the performances of Mcintosh and Dooley (the latter also to be found in that other recent British classic "Eden Lake") at the centre, the idea gets enough purchase to bring an unusual sense of depth to this apparently straight-forward genre piece. It's commendable that the two central characters are allowed to come across as flawed, sometimes selfish individuals: Kieran, a married man with children whose cheated on his wife; and Beth, a woman who has given up her daughter to pursue her career (a curiously '80s theme: hard-nosed professional women sacrificing family for career were all the rage back then); but both prove ultimately redeemable and courageous. As this seventy-five minute film progresses towards its final act, things start to get a bit generic after we learn what the threat actually is, and the end, although powerful, is hardly original. Neve Mcintosh isn't afraid to go native Sally Hardesty-style though and there are several surprising and quite brave moments along the way - and the pay-off is well handled.
The UK DVD from Revolver Entertainment features an audio commentary from director Lawrence Gough, writer Colin O'Donnell, actor Shaun Dooley and producer Alan Pattison. It's a nice mix of behind-the-scenes info and light-hearted banter in which the development of the screenplay, the experience of filming on 'Brookside Close' and the approach the lead actors took to the project are among the subjects discussed in a wide ranging track. There are over forty-minutes of cast and crew interviews recorded onset while the film was being shot, featuring not only the obvious subjects (leads Mcintosh & Dooley and director Gough) but also a producer and executive producer involved with the Digital Departures scheme by which the film was financed, as well as the prosthetics and production designers. Finally, there is a short behind-the-scenes selection of video footage taken on the fly during the production, which shows the cramped and cold conditons prevalent during much of the shoot if little else.
The HDV image looks surprisingly clean and sharp and there is a robust 5.1 Surround Sound audio track that proves nicely effective, as well as a 2.0 stereo track.
"Salvage" puts a refreshing spin on some classic themes and contemporary issues but remains a nicely rendered character piece as well, the extra emotional clout in the two central performances lifts it to a different level, making it a worthwhile effort despite one or two dubious liberties with logic at certain moments in the story and a rushed shooting schedule resulting in several moments that should have been especially powerful getting botched in the translation from script to screen. Nevertheless this is a promising debut.