It’s December 2nd and day 2 of our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature. Behind today’s door is British horror Salvage. This is a movie actually set on Christmas eve so perfectly fitting for the feature. It looks as though it was filmed in the middle of summer, however. I definitely wouldn’t say it has that undeniable Xmas vibe. Despite this, it does fit the bill and often flies under the radar.
Set on the Wirral in England, UK. Salvage tells the story of Beth, Jodie and Kieran. Something horrifying is happening on their street. Nobody knows what is is. We follow Beth as she attempts to survive against the unidentified threat. Taking in place in a small cul-de-sac, the action is tense and features a few decent scares. While maybe not the most obvious Christmas horror in the world. We have Christmas Trees, presents, turkeys and people arguing. You can’t get more Christmas than that, right? As always I will give a really quick spoiler free breakdown. You can skip this if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
It’s Christmas Eve and Jodie, played by Linzey Cocker, is being made to stay with her mum Beth. Jodie and Beth have a fractured relationship and she begs her dad to let her stay home. Refusing, her dad takes her to her mother’s house. Jodie has apparently arrived early and her mum doesn’t hear her knocking. Finding a spare key, Jodie walks around the house. Hearing something from upstairs, she walks to her mum’s bedroom. Pushing the door open, she sees her mum having sex with a random man. Disgusted, she storms out of the house.
Beth, played by Neve McIntosh, goes to the neighbour’s house. She asks them if she can talk to Jodie. They refuse so, frustrated, she backs away from the house. All of a sudden, a special forces team appears demanding that everyone gets back in their houses. Beth’s neighbour rushes at them carrying a knife. The special forces shoot him dead. Beth is accompanied back into her home by the soldiers and thrown to the ground. The man she was with, Kieran played by Shaun Dooley, is in the shower. The special forces kick down the door and push him to the ground. They demand the pair stay in the house. Once they have left, Kieran and Beth attempt to understand what is happening. Kieran suspects terrorism. A bang in the attic, however, suggests it may be something completely different.
Salvage came about as part of a celebration of Liverpool’s 2008 EU City of Culture status. Written by the duo of Colin O’Donnell and Alan Patterson and directed by Lawrence Gough. It’s a tense and claustrophobic low budget horror movie. Salvage starts out well but loses steam towards the end. Focusing on a very small cast of characters. The movie presents Beth and Kieran with an unknown threat. Playing on certain bigoted views doing the rounds at the time. Kieran believes it is terrorism. Beth thinks this suggestion is ridiculous. The movie never actually reveals the truth until near the end. Naturally, it is far more insane than the pair could have imagined.
Doing a nice job of setting up motivation for our hero Beth. Jodie is furious at her mother and is staying with a neighbour. Special forces are ordering everyone to stay indoors. Beth, however, is concerned for her daughter. She has to find a way to get to her neighbour’s house so she can be with Jodie. The only problem is that the neighbours live across the street. How will Beth get there? There are soldiers everywhere. Combine this with the unknown threat to Beth and Kieran and you have the makings of some nice suspense. Early moments of the movie are extremely tense and very atmospheric.
Beth, despite her flaws, is incredibly likeable and you want to see her succeed. Her motivations make perfect sense. You never find yourself wondering why she is doing this or why didn’t she do that. She believes her daughter is in danger and she will do anything to save her. While doing this, she finds tremendous strength and resolve. As far as she is concerned, nothing will stand in her way. It’s a fantastic horror representation of the mama bear phenomenon. I am sure many women can attest to that feeling of protection for their children. Rarely in a horror movie like this do the protagonists have such a well defined motivation.
The fact that Beth and Jodie’s relationship is so fractured adds to the drama. Beth feels like she has already failed Jodie and does not want to do it again. Having had her while she was studying to become a lawyer. Beth has placed her career ahead of her relationships. Her ex-husband divorced her due to this and Jodie now resents her. Beth is less of a bad mum and more just lacking in a natural maternal nature. She clearly loves her daughter, though, and will do anything for her. This fractured mother daughter relationship leads to some interesting moments. One in particular, later in the movie, is very impactful. It’s an interesting dynamic and feels different from the usual horror fodder.
Beth spends most of her time with a random stranger she recently met and had sex with. Kieran is a cynical guy who, frankly, comes across as a bit of a dick. He’s not likeable at all though does go through some development as the movie goes on. Kieran and Beth don’t get on particularly well. Beth is regretful that her daughter feels as though she put her own needs ahead of hers. Kieran represents something of a reminder for her of her bad decisions. She initially wants him to shower and get out. The situation that is thrust upon them changes that. They are now forced to spend time together in a veritable pressure cooker.
Kieran also has some serious regrets about his actions. These become more clear as the movie goes on. Something happens early on that changes the dynamic drastically. Kieran is forced to confront the situation head on and his character develops from this. This leads to a few moments of understanding between the two characters. You could even say they begin to somewhat care about each other. It’s some very nice character work and quite important given the nature of the plot. This would be an extremely dull movie if the character dynamics were flat. We need a spark of anger between the characters to build tension and Salvage does just that. It becomes something of a story of redemption. The difference is interesting to see given the characters presented at the start.
This movie may feel a little familiar to fans of old British soap operas. The entire thing was made on a fairly famous housing estate. That of the cancelled Liverpudlian soap Brookside. It’s a tiny cul-de-sac featuring only a few houses. Anyone who has seen Brookside before will recognise this place immediately. I was made to sit through it as a kid and it felt almost unchanged from back then. It is clear that the set designers have attempted to switch things up a bit. It is only partly successful, however, and I imagine some will find the setting jarring.
The small nature of the cul-de-sac is a bit of a double edged sword. The houses being close together keeps the action contained. Beth moves through some of the neighbour’s houses and you never know what she will find. This works to add an extra sense of tension. The director also does a nice job of making the street seem bigger than it is. The unknown threat means the odds are against Beth. Combine this with the special forces and it makes a simple trip across the road feel monumental. The location is undeniably boring, however, and there is a distinct sense of rinse and repeat. Each scene feels similar to the last. Later revelations will make you wonder why the events stayed contained to the small area. When viewed as a complete picture, it really makes no sense.
Wow, Neve McIntosh is on fire in this movie. What a brilliant performance. She is thoroughly convincing as the regretful absent mum desperate to save her child. Beth spends much of the movie covered in dirt and exhausted. She goes crawling around gardens and throwing herself over fences. Swinging pokers and climbing ladders. All in all, she generally gets very beat up and very dirty. It’s one of my favourite British horror movie performances. From being an angry and conflicted person right down to going full on action heroine mode. Neve is totally invested and genuinely captivating. I think it is fair to say that without her performance this movie would barely be worth a watch.
Shaun Dooley as Kieran is also fantastic. He puts on a nuanced performance. Dooley makes Kieran entirely believable for his sleaziness and smarm. Kieran develops as the movie goes on and becomes fairly likeable. This is mostly down to Dooley’s portrayal as Kieran isn’t a sympathetic character. Scenes where he Kieran is displaying emotion are perfectly convincing. One scene, in particular, is noteworthy for just how effective it is. Linzey Cocker as Jodie puts on a very realistic performance. I have to point out that she looks way too old to be playing the 14 year old character. Cocker was in her 20s here and it shows. Still, that’s not her fault. There is a bit of a soap opera realism to the way she plays the character. You really feel her resentment when she shouts at Beth. Her Salford accent helps with that as well.
A quick thing I should point out here is the dialogue. Americans are going to struggle with some it. Hell, I did and I am Welsh, albeit with a very non-Welsh accent. I have family from the North of England. I should be used to this. Well, at least a little. It is an absolute smorgasbord of random British accents. Beth has a thick Scottish accent. Jodie is from Manchester. One of the special forces characters has an ultra thick Liverpool accent. Dooley seems to be from Yorkshire.
Beth is generally fine and most people will get a kick out of her aggressive Scottish tinged cussing. Jodie is easy to understand but, again, has a very thick accent. The special forces dude later in the movie can be difficult in parts. It’s Dooley that posed the most issues for me, however. Not so much because of his accent but because of his pitch and the volume he talks at. I missed big chunks of what he was saying due to this. Having watched this movie a good few times, I miss something every viewing. It doesn’t help that there is a big disparity between loud sounds and voices. People who struggle with understanding accents may have a hard time here.
The problem with Salvage and the reason for the score is the inconsistency. It starts with an intriguing scenario and builds tension incredibly well. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t manage to maintain it. It actually descends into farce as the movie goes on. The once promising plot is replaced by an action packed final 20 minutes. This would normally be fine but the action feels pointless. The area is so small that there is no reason it would be contained there. Things start happening that just feel completely forced to up the ante.
Another strange thing with Salvage is that it sets up one story before abandoning it for another. It is if only half of the story had been written. The writer didn’t know how to end it so said “I know.. Monsters!”. Remember Beth’s neighbour attacking the special forces with a knife? I am sure you can make your own assumptions about what has happened. You thoroughly buy into this. You are rewarded with it being reinforced by another similar event. Beth investigates neighbour’s houses and finds carnage. You are now completely convinced that you know what is going on.
All of a sudden, it completely changes into something entirely different. Everything that happened previously goes unexplained and might as well have not happened. With this change, the enjoyment of the movie evaporates. We are left with a formulaic, boring monster movie. It is as if the two writers split the writing duties into two halves. Very strange.
Unfortunately, that is not where the issues end. Despite how good some of the earlier practical stuff had looked. Later scenes feature terrible effects. Said awful effects combine with some absolutely silly cinematography. Certain shots are actually comical and look ridiculous. It’s very disappointing and the earlier hope of the movie is lost. One scene in particular witnessed from Beth’s perspective is particularly awful.
Many of the scenes make no sense. There are plot holes everywhere. Things happen with no explanation and the writing is very sloppy. A few effective scenes toward the end don’t make up for the more ridiculous ones. A few things happen that are bound to have the audience asking “WTF?”.
The slow burn nature of the early part of the movie may put a few people off. People who enjoy a gradual build up of tension may really enjoy it, however. The early part of the movie hints at something fantastic. Despite that, the last 20 minutes betray that promise entirely.
Salvage is a British horror movie set during Christmas on a tiny cul-de-sac. Starting in a very promising way, the film builds up some nice tension and maintains it for at least awhile. The unknown threat is intriuging and you will definitely want to know what is going on. The slow burn plot is both atmospheric and compelling. Fantastic acting from Neve McIntosh keeps you rooting for Beth and the dynamic relationships between various characters lead to some surprise interactions.
Unfortunately, the movie abandons some of the plot elements that made you buy into the story replacing them with a formulaic monster movie. The tension evaporates as Salvage devolves into an action horror full of plot holes and devoid of scares. The location is underwhelming and the small cul-de-sac demands more questions that it answers. Still, it is a watchable movie and the excellent acting make it worth a try. It is just a shame the promising first half didn't receive the payoff it deserved.