The hills have eyes: A review of Salvage

In the past two decades or so, Asian cinema has emerged as a driving force in the horror genre, and with masterpieces from Shutter (2004) to The Grudge (2002), it’s not hard to see why. It has been often said in film circles that the secret to Asian horror’s success is that the films invariably end without explanation.

Enter Salvage (2015), a found footage-style thrill ride starring Jessy Mendiola and JC de Vera that takes full advantage of this storytelling element, eventually to a fault. The film follows the story of a suspended news crew investigating mysterious disappearances in an isolated barrio. Ignoring warnings of local aswang activity, they encounter a gang of armed men and are forced to retreat into the surrounding woods. As darkness falls and they descend deeper into the forest, what at first appears to be a swarm of bandits turns out to be something much darker.

The ensuing chaos drags you through a harrowing struggle for survival in a world where women fornicate with reptiles, children assist demonic entities, and you are the prey. The proverbial rug is suddenly pulled out from under you, civilization seems out of reach, and you do not know what you do not know.

Through no fault of his own, director Sherad Anthony Sanchez crafts a thriller that is at once as stimulating as it is tiresome. Overly shaky scenes were shot by characters whose priorities seemed to be to film first, and stay alive second. Camera and sound glitches were plastered in complete excess, heightening the film’s already eerie atmosphere in the process.

The film’s plot was difficult to follow. It was evident that storytelling was traded for unpredictability. In theory, this should not matter if it contributes to the overall effect. However, in its attempts to play with the viewer’s mind, the film ends up killing your interest by focusing solely on the dread.

As a consequence, the film struck terror into the hearts of moviegoers as much as it did frustration. Towards the end, the theater’s audience thinned down to just one, and whether they left out of fear or exasperation was just as likely.

Regardless, the film achieved exactly what it set out to do. Sanchez’s frenetic brand of horror brings viewers a terrifying take on an already-tired concept. At its worst, Salvage is a collection of clips that do not readily make much sense together, leaving you with countless unanswered questions. At its best, it is a harrowing tale of the unknown that disturbs you long after you have vacated the theater. Whether this is enough to salvage the overall experience is entirely up to you. Until then, leave the lights on at night, and avoid the nearby forest.

Rating: 2.5

Photo retrieved from abs-cbn.com

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