If I was to tell you that Salvage is written by Hollyoaks scribe Colin O’Donnell, taking place on and around the set of Brookside Close in Liverpool, you’d be forgiven for moving onto the next article. Forgiven but ultimately foolish. Salvage is the debut feature from director Lawrence Gough, a low budget horror movie that has built up quite the following at festival screenings, and on DVD it delivers one of the most enjoyable nights in of the year.
Its Christmas Eve and teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) is travelling to her mother’s house for the holidays. After a blazing row she storms over to her friend’s house on the other side of the street. Jodie’s mother Beth (Neve McIntosh) has had company for the night, not that she can remember his name (Eden Lake’s Shaun Dooley), but still, she wasn’t expecting her daughter’s arrival until later that day. Things go from bad to worse when a group of heavily armed military personnel storm the road, ordering the residents back into their homes at gunpoint.
Undecided on whether it could be a terrorist attack or in fact something far worse, Beth takes it upon herself to rescue her estranged daughter on the other side of the street. The residents soon discover that the situation is more monstrous than they could ever imagine, and violence, terror and paranoia threaten to tear their worlds apart.
Lawrence Gough has delivered a tense and terrifying low budget horror movie that successfully mixes current world anxieties with traditional horror conventions. He teases the audiences with glimpses of fear and dread, refusing to surrender to his lack of funds and time restraints. The true horror of Salvage is hidden within the shadows until the final act, affording the fledgling director the time he needs to play with his emotionally charged characters.
Neve McIntosh won the Best Actress Award at Fantastic Fest 2009 for her performance as our gutsy heroine. Coming on like a modern day Ellen Ripley, Neve takes the role of Beth (damaged goods and mother of one) and turns it into something memorable. Utterly believable throughout, her performance is powerful, passionate and bewitching. Shaun Dooley is just as good as reluctant hero Kieran, a troubled father figure attempting to make amends for his failures as a family man. The relationship that blossoms between the pair becomes the films anchor, and both actors make the most of some zingy dialogue and melancholy moments.
Not everything works as well as it should however. Colin O’Donnell’s gripping script gives Lawrence Gough the freedom to take his movie in several directions, but I’m not convinced he chooses the right path at every turn. A confused relationship dynamic takes the edge off what should’ve been an emotional payoff, and daughter Jodie disappears from the movie after the opening act. I would’ve loved to have seen her side of the story as well, enhancing the climax of the movie and giving Linzey Cocker more screen time. She is, after all, exceptional throughout as well.
Adding the military to the mix was a smart move though, and their presence is actually more terrifying than anything else the screenplay conjures up. Unfortunately, Lawrence chooses to focus on the least frightening aspects of the movie, and it’s here that Salvage loses momentum. The effects aren’t great, and the final confrontation suffers greatly because the destructive force behind the bedlam lacks true conviction. We only ever get to see the devastation it causes after the events unfold, and when the big reveal does come, its hard to imagine that this is what the military has been trying to keep under wraps for so much of the film, its really not scary at all.
That said, Lawrence does well to keep it hidden, and if his only failure is the films final reveal, then he deserves credit for creating the wealth of tension that comes before it. Without his effective turn behind the camera, the ending wouldn’t feel quite so disappointing, so in essence, the one true criticism of the film could actually be considered a compliment. Despite a rushed conclusion, Salvage remains a smart, relevant, scary little thriller. Stunning lead turns, current themes and fears, capable direction and a healthy dose of tension combine to create a true undiscovered gem.
Lawrence Gough is a name to watch out for in future. Lets hope somebody gives him the time and money to build on his success here. Neve McIntosh joins a long list of standout femme fatales, her performance alone is reason enough to salvage Gough’s superb debut feature from the pit of video store obscurity. Makes you proud to be British. AW