4 out of 10
Release Date: 22nd March 2010 (DVD Premiere)
Director: Lawrence Gough (Hollyoaks (TV) / Misfits (TV))
Cast: Neve McIntosh, Shaun Dooley, Linzey Cocker, Dean Andrews, Kevin Harvey, Jessica Baglow, Debbie Rush and Shahid Ahmed
Writer: Lawrence Gough
If Brookside had carried on much longer it would have had episodes which closely resembled Salvage. Brookside was a popular Liverpool-set soap of the 80s and 90s which fearlessly tackled issues – drugs, being gay, industrial unrest – before collapsing under a welter of headline-seeking nonsense (a lesbian murders her paedophile parent and buries him under the patio; an endless profusion of gangsters does gangster stuff; a strange tropical disease wipes out several members of the cast including George from George and Mildred. Salvage is a film about a zombie invasion. I’m sure you can see the similarities immediately.
If you’ve ever watched zombie / alien invasion movies and wondered what happens to the people who aren’t the heroes, i.e. the bystanders, then Salvage may be the film for you. Unfortunately it does feel like you’re watching bystanders whilst something more interesting is happening elsewhere but it’s a decent idea, and it’s good to see someone having a go even if it doesn’t really work.
The main plot is never sufficiently explained, and what explanation there is seems to be a fib. However, it seems that someone’s been contaminated and zombified by some sort of dodgy material from a haulage container. He has gone off on a murderous marauding rampage and heads for Brookside Close. Somehow a cleaver-wielding dressing-gown-wearing Indian doctor gets shot by the army. But we don’t follow this story. Instead we se it all from the view of a couple of bystanders played by Neve McIntosh (DR WHO) and Shaun Dooley (EDEN LAKE). Following the shooting they get locked in McIntosh’s house together. This is awkward as they are acquaintances of only a few hours much to the disgust of McIntosh’s estranged daughter who has just found them in a compromising position. Meanwhile Shaun Dooley reveals himself to be a racist conspiracy theorist convinced that the Al-Qaida invasion is finally under way (don’t worry – he is redeemed by some by-the-book character development and turns into a chivalrous good guy who loves his wife.) Mother and daughter have a Brookside-style row in the street before the latter goes off in a strop to her pal’s house across the road. A road that is now off limits due to zombie killers and trigger-happy soldiers. And it’s Christmas Eve!
The film’s conceit is promising, but it doesn’t work. By keeping the characters in the dark we’re kept in the dark too. And the film quickly fails to deal with the claustrophobic setting it sets up by having them move next door and then all over Brookside Close. What I did like though was how out of their depth the main characters are. Usually everyone in films knows how to handle weapons and look round potentially perilous corners; here they look and behave in the dumb ways that real people probably would. There’s a good bit where Dooley runs to pick something up, stumbles and begins to run off before realising he hasn’t actually got it. There’s a lot of believable stuff like that going on, particularly in the first half of the film. But then it all gets silly, with lots of crawling about in the mud and people getting killed by accident and you almost get the feeling that the army just sort of lose interest and push off to have a cup of tea whilst McIntosh and Dooley are running about the street.
Another point in the film’s favour (for a while) is its structure. The first thing we note is that it looks nothing like a zombie film made by enthusiastic youngsters without a budget in Milton Keynes. In fact it looks like it’s going to be some sort of coming of age story with a paperboy going about his rounds (in a neighbourhood which still has a busy milkman). And then the BBC sticks its name amongst the producers and one wonders where the devil it’s all going. Then we cut to the coast and a cool dad (well, as cool as Dean Andrews (LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX) will ever be) who’s unknowingly escorting his teenage daughter to her Christmas Visit of Doom (this could be the bleakest Christmas film since Black Christmas with Margot Kidder and Udo Kier). On the way, they just happen to pass the Haulage Container of Destruction. And although it’s a good idea to have our heroes holed up in a house the film does nothing with that idea. Off they pop, next door, across the road, into the woods. The film should be a claustrophobic character-driven study in terror, but despite the best efforts of the actors it doesn’t come alive. The story is too formulaic and the characters’ tribulations (in their normal lives – not in the current zombie-infestation situation) are standard by-the-book backstories: she’s a career woman feeling bad about abandoning her family; he’s an idiot feeling bad about cheating on his wife. Character progression is of the perfunctory soap-opera type (i.e. our main characters both remember that they love their kids). If you’re going to concentrate your film on just two characters, you should at least make them worth making a film about. And it’s predictable: every scare arrives on cue. The sense of confusion that the characters experience is shared by the audience, but not in a good way. There’s also a vague sense that the film is accidentally saying that a woman’s place is in the home though I’m sure that’s not the intention.
4 out of 10 – Salvage has a potentially interesting premise. It wouldn’t be the first film to give us a ‘what the bystanders did during the zombie invasion’ story, but I do like the idea of seeing a few characters locked into their own homes whilst hell is breaking out down the road. But there needed to be more real characters (not stock TV drama figures) and more for them to do. As it is we are left with a dull couple realising that Christmas is a time for giving whilst failing to avoid the zombie apocalypse. (And the final straw: the zombie creature is funny.)
WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?
- Neve McIntosh: Social Suicide, Dr Who (TV), Plunkett and Macleane
- Shaun Dooley: Bloodmoon, Broadchurch (TV), Misfits (TV), Offender, Junkhearts, The Woman In Black, The Awakening, Eden Lake
- Linzey Cocker: Enemies Closer, Waterloo Road (TV), 220.127.116.11, Is Anybody There?, Wild Child
- Dean Andrews: Last Tango In Halifax (TV), United, Life On Mars (TV), The Navigators
- Shahid Ahmed: 28 Weeks Later, Mischief Night, Yasmin, Syriana