Director / Writer: Christopher Denham
Starring: Wrenn Schmidt, Pablo Shreiber, Aaron Staton, Cody Saintgnue
Running Time: 90 minutes
UK Certificate: 15
Format: On Demand from May 11th on iTunes, Sky, Amazon, BlinkBox & Google Play from Alarm Pictures.
Studio: Present Pictures
“A real hunter doesn’t give chase. A real hunter is already there.”
So says discharged soldier and seasoned hunter Sean Neary (Pablo Schreiber – ‘Orange Is The New Black’) to his younger brother Mike (‘Mad Men”s Aaron Staton) and Mike’s new wife Wit (Wrenn Schmidt). The three are taking a weekend trip out to generic deer-laden country in this directorial full-length début from some time actor Christopher Denham (‘Shutter Island’, ‘Argo’).
The scene is set with opening credits showing from behind the trio’s car meandering through gradually more and more underpopulated roads and trails, illustrating how far from civilisation they are headed. Sean, the outdoors-y yet troubled older brother, is taking time out with city slicker Mike with whom he clearly shares a strong bond, but also has a roving eye trained on the rather hunting-averse vegan Wit. As expected, within the first act an overnight theft occurs and we learn that the situation is not as harmless as first thought – they’re don’t seem to be just bears in them there woods…
I was a little apprehensive on watching ‘Preservation’ that I may have been about to step into gruesome, torture and suffering-heavy ‘Wolf Creek’ territory (really not my horror bag personally), but to some level of relief on my part this piece really isn’t going for that kind of tone. Denham’s début is subtle, well-acted, appropriately paced and brings to the table a couple of nice storyline / theme touches – for instance, the identity of the Threat is fairly original and it is introduced bit by bit effectively (I was hoping for werewolves and potential ‘Dog Soldiers’-style brilliance in that area but you can’t have everything).
It also certainly avoids the pound-shop jump-scares so abundant in other horror flicks of recent times, which is always great to see – it shows that many film-makers currently working are listening to the whispers of what film fans, and in particular horror fans, are eager for in terms of originality and going in new directions with plot, editing and cinematography. A decent, understated soundtrack also works in the film’s favour and gives it that more classy edge.
However, for my money ‘Preservation’ plays things a little too safe and was a bit too heavy on the subtle, which tended to outweigh the substance. Overall, it plays out more like a respectable thriller offering rather than horror proper, perfectly entertaining enough for chilled-out week-night viewing with enough tension to make you want to go the whole way with it. Wrenn Schmidt showcases some excellent Final Girl tropes as the story unfolds (and then some!) as Wit endures and battles through many trials she states earlier she would not be able to do, in order to stay one step ahead of the villains who are pursuing her. Ultimately it plays out as one of those films that is just missing that vital ‘oomph’ or extra ‘something’ (stop me if I’m being vague!) and I feel it leaves the viewer wishing for a touch more fright and gore.
That said, ‘Preservation’ is certainly not bad for a directorial début and it will be interesting to see what Christopher Denham comes up with following on from this. Less is normally indeed more but this one on the whole skimps a fraction too much on the frights and indeed fun.