Well, my luck seemed to improve today… don’t get me wrong the movie I watched isn’t going to win any awards, but it was much better than yesterday’s misfire and I know it’s a movie that I’ll probably be thinking about for at least the next couple of days, and that’s a good thing.
This is a small horror movie… in the best possible way. It stars a total of six people… though, in reality, it’s a one-woman show. The filmmaker (writer/director Christopher Denham (mostly an actor)) clearly had a vision for the movie and mostly succeeded in translating it to film. Whether or not that vision works is another question that we’ll tackle a bit later. At its heart Preservation is a simple survivor-horror movie. Three people go on a hunting trip for the weekend (a married couple and the husband’s brother, who recently returned from a stint in the military). They wake up on the second day and all of their gear is missing (the filmmaker does a passible job at having the characters sleep though this plausible (just don’t think about it for too long)). The culprits have more planned than simple thievery… mayhem ensues. I really don’t want to say more than this since the rest of the plot intersects with the filmmaker’s vision/statement. I will discuss this vision in a bit, but I will make sure to keep it vague as to avoid spoilers.
I clearly gave it away in my opening line, but I enjoyed this film. It definitely has a few issues, which I’ll address later, but all in all it was a tight horror movie (perhaps a bit too tight (this is a rarity for me, but I think the movie might have actually deserved another ten to fifteen minutes)). The movie is infused with 70s-horror-movie DNA. From the opening theme that sounds like something out of a Lucio film (see Zombi 2 or The Beyond) to cinematography that looks like early Carpenter (see Holloween) or Craven (see Last House on the Left) this movie started out on the right foot. Now, before you get too excited, let me make it clear that the filmmaker doesn’t fully deliver on these promises, but it doesn’t fall completely short either. I’ve gotten into debates with people about this, but I tend to prefer my horror movies (especially those in the slasher or survival-horror subgenre) to build slowly. This film achieves this, to the point where, in some ways, the slow build is actually more enjoyable than the climax. The movie takes its time introducing us to the three campers/hunters and by the thirty-minute mark we feel invested in these characters. That’s why the next part of the movie works so well. The filmmaker decides to dispense with a character (or two) in a mater-of-fact wat that makes the viewer feel almost cheated (also, I don’t think saying that someone dies in a horror movie is a spoiler, so, please hold you letters (or don’t)). At first, this may sound like a complaint, but I think it actually works in the film’s favor. It makes you feel uncomfortable and not sure what may happen next. This feeling is carried over to once we are properly introduced to the killers (more on this shortly). Another element that should work against the film, but the filmmaker actually uses to his advantage is the budget. This movie as clearly shot on a very, very small budget. In the end, this means that you are not going to get the super-gore you are probably used to if you’re watching higher budget horror films. Through several clever directorial choices, the filmmaker is able to achieve a lot with his actors and sound-design. This felt reminiscent of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (to namecheck another classic 70s horror-movie) in that I found the injuries much more excruciating to watch when my mind had to connect the dots. There’s a scene with a bear trap that I found very, very uncomfortable… nearly nauseating (that’s also not a spoiler, because you know it coming from almost the beginning of the film (there is a bit too much in the way of foreshadowing in this movie)).
At this point, you may be asking why I’m not highly recommending this movie. There are two reasons. First, although it shares DNA with better movies, a large chunk of this film feels like a cliché survival-horror movie. In the end it doesn’t add much to the genre. This leads to the second issue, what it does add can come across a bit preachy. I don’t want to give the movie away, but the filmmaker clearly has a view of the modern world and he’s not subtle about his feelings. At times, it feels a bit too bonk-bonk-on-the-head preachy. What I will say though, is that it makes for an interesting twist on the sub-genre and it did make me reflect back on the film. Finally, while the filmmaker may lose you once he reveals the killers, I was impressed with his ability to get me back on board in just a few minutes. I assumed the film had lost me, but I was wrong. Again, not a great movie, but not a horrible movie either.
Hopefully, my luck will continue into tomorrow… though, I would prefer to watch a movie that doesn’t seem to have a political position it feels needs to be pushed on viewers.