Salvage (2009)


UK. 2009.


Director – Lawrence Gough, Screenplay – Colin O’Donnell, Story – Lawrence Gough, Colin O’Donnell & Alan Pattison, Producer – Julie Lau, Photography – Simon Tindall, Music – Stephen Hilton, Prosthetics Design – David Jones, Production Design – Malcolm Smith & Colin Taylor. Production Company – Northwest Vision and Media/Digital Departures/The Liverpool Culture Company/BBC Films/Hoax Films


Neve McIntosh (Beth), Shaun Dooley (Kieran), Linzey Cocker (Jodie), Dean Andrews (Clive), Kevin Harvey (Akeda), Shahid Ahmed (Dr Sharma), Alan Pattison (Peter Davis), Jessica Baglow (Leanne), Debbie Rush (Pam), Kyle Ward (Paperboy)


Fourteen year-old Jodie is dropped off by her father to stay with her estranged mother Beth for Christmas, only to walk into the house and find Beth having sex with a stranger Kieran. This precipitates a very loud meltdown as Jodie runs away to stay with a neighbour. This happens just as armed soldiers appear and shoot the neighbour Mr Sharma as he emerges from his house covered in blood and waving a knife. Everybody on the streets is ordered to stay inside their homes. The soldiers seem to be dealing with a threat that may have emerged from a shipping container that was washed up on a nearby beach. As they watch, this appears to be infecting the people of the neighbourhood and turning them into crazed killers.

Salvage was the first feature-length film from British director Lawrence Gough who had previously made five horror short films. The film, along with several others, was financed in part by The Liverpool Culture Company in order to highlight the city’s status as the European Union’s City of Culture for 2008. Salvage enjoyed reasonable exposure around the fantastic film festival circuit. The surprise is that Lawrence Gough has subsequently failed to capitalise on this and has since only worked a director in British television.

Salvage catches your attention from its prologue in which a paperboy is chased by a possibly crazed neighbour. We are then thrown into a domestic scenario as daughter Linzey Cocker is dropped off by her father (Dean Andrews) to stay with her estranged mother (Neve McIntosh) only to walk in on her mother having sex with a stranger (Shaun Dooley). This results in a meltdown on the daughter’s part as she flees to stay with a neighbouring friend and McIntosh is locked out of their house for being a bad mother. This is a decidedly different opening that immediately captivates. We are next jolted as Neve McIntosh turns away from the neighbour’s just as armed soldiers appear, lock the scene down as another neighbour (Shahid Ahmed) emerges from his house, covered in blood and waving a kitchen knife, whom they promptly shoot.

This has the clever effect of distracting us by the domestic dramas before the appearance of the soldiers comes out of the blue and suddenly turns everything on its head, leaving us not knowing what has happened. Moreover, as we follow Neve McIntosh through the subsequent scenes where she is trying to puzzle out what is going on, another form of disorientation has occurred. During the lead-up, the sympathetic point-of-view has been with teenager Linzey Cocker so it becomes a sudden disconnect when the film switches points-of-view to Neve McIntosh who has just been painted as an irresponsible mother – in any more regular film, the amount of sympathy the film gives to the daughter would have pegged her as the lead character, instead this is abruptly placed onto the least likeable character in the film up to that point. Moreover, Neve McIntosh and the man she was shagging, someone she met at the bar and whose name she cannot even remember (and who is later revealed to have neglected to tell her he is married), are thrust into being the lead characters by dint of their being imprisoned in the house where he becomes decidedly less helpful than the usual supportive boyfriend.

So far, Lawrence Gough does a tight and well-sustained job of drawing us into the film. The way we have been introduced to the characters leaves us as bewildered and confused as they are by the situation. Salvage subsequently becomes a film where we are left trying to make heads and tails of the events that happen as seen through their eyes. It becomes very much a character-driven exploration of the crisis before them. The big failing of Salvage to me is that it feels an incomplete film. [PLOT SPOILERS]. It never feels like we are given enough in the way of raison d’etre for what is going on. An Islamic extremist threat explanation is raised and dismissed. There is some suggestion of an infection coming from the cargo container that washed up on a nearby beach – the nearest, it would appear, that we get to any relevance to the film’s titular ‘salvage’. There is a disappointing lack of answers, even definition of the threat they are facing – you feel like you are in a film that has only given us two out of three of its acts. The abruptly downbeat ending has largely been borrowed from Night of the Living Dead (1968).

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