Once reserved for resurrected corpses and bug-eyed Haitian dudes under voodoo mind control, the term “zombie” can now be loosely applied to infected, contagious psychopaths, some of which are apparently pretty spry. Recent movies like 28 Days Later, Splinter, [REC], and The Crazies have all contributed to this minor but intriguing change in the canons of zombie-dom. These days you don’t necessarily have to be dead to be a zombie, just super sick and angry. Is this due to our emerging fear of fatal, easily-transmittable disease? Or perhaps our use of zombies as a metaphor for foreign terrorists seems more apt if we include blind, screaming insanity as a character trait…
It’s something I like to think about when I’m curled up in my nerdwomb late at night, clutching my Ash “Come and Get Some”12-inch plushie, especially after watching a new “zombie” movie. In this case, it was Salvage, a British survival-horror flick with a plot that nudges vaguely around the edges of zombie lore without ever truly raising the dead.
Somewhere around Liverpool, teenage Jodie is fobbed off on her mum Beth for the weekend. Dad’s got parental custody, but he wants Jodie to improve her relationship with her workaholic mum. When Jodie enters the house to find Beth shagging some strange bloke, she gets her knickers in an angry twist and flees to a house across the street. Her estranged mum pursues, only to be roughly tackled to the ground by a heavily armed soldier, part of a militia that is suddenly sweeping the neighborhood. Ordered to return home, a confused and frightened Beth locks herself in her house to await further orders.
Much like the DVD sleeper Right at Your Door, the majority of the paranoid action in Salvage is confined to one house in one small neighborhood, but co-writer/director Lawrence Gough manages to stage some good scenes early on, particularly a taut piece that has Beth exploring ominous noises in her attic. Another good scene comes when Beth and her fuck-buddy come to the aid of a wounded soldier laying out in the bushes. The soldier hacks up blood and gives up the goods: a mysterious shipping container, recently drifted to shore near the town beach, is somehow responsible for a sudden outbreak of neighborhood violence (most of which takes place off-screen).
But other than that brief revelatory moment, Salvage plays its secrets frustratingly close to the vest. What was in the shipping container? Is it contagious? Are people infected? Is the military lying to the civilians? Is the government to blame? For most of its respectably tight 1:12 running time, nobody in Salvage knows what the hell is going on. Most of the film’s dialogue consists of wild speculation and half-baked plans, along with the screechy “I Gotta Find My Kid!“ subplot that’s practically required of any overwrought survival movie.
When “horror” finally made a cameo appearance at the end of the film, riding in on a blissful wave of weird, rubbery make-ups, it was like someone jammed a handful of smelling salts up my nose. Sort of like Ti West’s House of the Devil, I desperately wanted to see where Salvage was going, even if the journey came with too many mandatory rest stops.
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