A family reunion on Savage Island turns deadly and decidedly grainy in Jeffrey Scott Lando’s micro-budgeted debut feature (which he shot on video and edited on his Macintosh).
Steve (Steven Harris) and Julia (Kristina Copeland) are mired in a sexless marriage, and neither seems to be looking forward to dragging baby Alex along on a family visit to Savage Island. After a disconcerting ferry ride, the couple is met by stoner brother Peter (the supremely irritating Brenden Beiser), who proceeds to show off his stoner driving abilities by driving through the woods, at night, with his headlights off, totally stoned. He plows into a little boy, mistakes the impact for the body of a deer, and quickly abandons the scene as the boy lies broken and near death not far from the dirt road.
Unfortunately for Peter and the rest of the gang, Savage Island is overrun by members of the Savage family, a group of easily-incensed eccentrics. Once the boy is discovered, severely injured but still alive, patriarch Joe Savage (Gregg Scott) makes an executive decision and snaps the boy’s neck before announcing that baby Alex must be stolen from the visiting family in bloody retribution.
Despite its occasionally overbearing and obvious musical score by Chris Nickel, Savage Island manages some genuinely intense moments. The Savage family is effectively vehement in their pursuit of Alex and the subsequent retribution that follows. The acting (for the most part) is surprisingly good for a movie with production values this low. Although many of the actors are amateurs, Don S. Davis (Major Briggs from “Twin Peaks”) shows up to act gruff and authoritative and maybe lend the production a little street cred. Even a wooden stake to the gut won’t kill Don S. Davis right away.
Unfortunately, a solid third of Savage Island is grainy beyond description. I can respect the use of low light and hand-held video for stylistic reasons, but its clear that the filmmakers behind Savage Island simply didn’t have enough money. Several scenes are so dark and grainy I felt like I was trying to catch the Playboy channel with a pair of aluminum foil rabbit ears.
The gore in Savage Island is restrained, but effective, and Lando is obviously a talented cinematic storyteller; however, the low production values are an all-too-frequent distraction. With better lighting, a few days of re-shoots, and a decent array of makeup effects, Lando may have crafted a cult classic. But as it stands, Savage Island is neutered by its own financial limitations.