Maybe it's because I'm getting older, but lately, I tend to focus more on the story in movies. Sure, being a film lover, the visuals are still very important, but if there's not a good story involved, I just don't find myself invested in the film. And all good stories start with a good concept. The movie Salvage starts with a whopper of a concept (and one that -- to the best of my knowledge -- hasn't been done before) -- take the central premise of Groundhog Day and place it in a horror film. The result is a low-budget horror film that packs a wallop.
Lauren Currie Lewis stars in as Claire, a fairly normal young woman. As the film opens, Claire is getting off of work from her job at a convenience store. She goes outside to wait for her boyfriend Jimmy (Cody Darbe) to pick her up, but when his truck arrives, a stranger is driving it. The man introduces himself as Duke (Chris Ferry), and states that Jimmy sent him to pick up Claire. As Duke drives Claire home, his behavior becomes more and more strange. He drops her off and Claire spurns his requests to come inside. Unfortunately for Claire, Duke comes into the back door and kills her.
Claire then finds herself in the convenience store again, alive and well. It appears that her day has started over again, and everything is as it should be. Jimmy picks her up and she is able to go to school. However, Claire begins to see very strange things. She sees Duke over and over again. Sometimes she only catches glimpses of him, while at other time, he accosts her. And during those times, when she dies, she wakes up in the store again. Every time the day starts over, Claire is able to piece together more clues about who Duke and what he plans to do with Claire.
Co-writers/co-directors Jeffrey and Joshua Crook (brothers) continue the grand tradition of low-budget horror films with Salvage. Having little money ($250,000) and resources, the two have tried to put as much into the story as possible. The film actually drags under the weight of the story at times, but on the whole, the movie is very effective.
Of course, the thing that grabs you about Salvage is the central premise. The idea of a Groundhog Day-like storyline framing a horror film is a great one. But, that concept is simply the jumping off point for the movie. Once Claire begins to realize that something odd is happening, the movie wanders into Jacob's Ladder territory and becomes more of a paranoid psychological thriller. The events in Claire's life and the things that she sees become more bizarre and distorted and she begins to question her own sanity. And in the tradition of psychological thrillers, the behavior of those around Claire becomes inconsistent, thus adding to Claire's paranoia.
Along with the overall story, the Crook Brothers have done a nice job in structuring the story as well. (Josh did the editing.) The initial murder comes very quickly and then the story settles down and becomes somewhat normal for a while. But, when things begin to get weird, the layers of the story come together in chunks, and the surprises are spaced apart quite nicely. This structure gives a rising level of terror and tension to the film. The first murder occurs off-screen, but one of the subsequent murders is quite explicit and disturbing, giving the film and unpredictable feel. The third act does drag somewhat, as we are forced to watch too many shots of Claire running around, confused and scared.
However, any sins are forgiven with the film's finale. Salvage has a twist ending that I would put up there with The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense. The resolution is shocking and very creative. Looking back, all of the clues are there (as is common with these films), but it still packs a punch. I really liked the first half of Salvage, but I was beginning to question the film during the second half, but the ending make this one very memorable.
Having raved about Salvage, the film isn't perfect and suffers from some of the pitfalls which plague low-budget movies. The locations are limited (and often look like the typical indie-film "house of a friend") and the cast is small. The actors are pretty good, most notably Lauren Currie Lewis, who resembles Alicia Silverstone (sort of). The Crooks have made the most of their technical equipment, giving the film style, but not in a way which is distracting.
Every year, the direct-to-video market is flooded with horror films, but few leave an impression like Salvage.
Salvage repeats itself on DVD courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.85:1, but the transfer is not anamorphic. The movie was shot on mini dv, and was later transferred to HD for its showing at the Sundance Film Festival. It's unclear what the video source for this transfer was, but the image looks fairly good. The picture is clear and fee from grain or notable defects. The colors look especially good, most notably the greens. (This adds to the color effects done on the characters flesh tones.) The image does show noticeable artifacting and video noise. If you stare intently at the picture, you can see a subtle shimmering throughout. Still, it's doesn't really stand out.
The DVD features a digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects with only a subtle amount of hiss. The stereo effects are good, but the surround effects are limited to musical cues and certain sound effects. The same goes for subwoofer effects, which come only during shock scenes.
The DVD features an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Jeffrey and Joshua Crook. The brothers speak at length throughout the film. They devote a notable amount of time to the technical details, discussing the camera and equipment used in the film. They also talk about how they used their limited budget to make the film. They do not give much insight into the story or what the inspiration was. The only other extra on the DVD is a trailer for Salvage.
I watch many horror movies every year and most of them make me wish that I had that time back. Salvage was a pleasant surprise as it's a low-budget horror film which places a great deal of emphasis on story and mood. The result is a small film with a chilling ending.