SAVAGELAND (October 3rd)


YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...

You know what's popular right now? True crime documentaries. A few years ago I barely remember seeing any of them. I mean, they must have existed but it feels as if Netflix have played a big part in their resurgence in popularity. Docs such as Making a Murderer and The Tiger King were watched by millions and proved that viewers had a desire to see dark and mysterious true life stories as well as drama and scripted action. I've just started getting into a series called Unsolved Mysteries and I'm enjoying the mix of procedural format and the intrigue of it all and it's the fact that it's real makes it doubly effective (and tragic). There are movies that have tried to ape this format and a few of them are very good to be fair. The Blair Witch Project is sort of in this realm but the two standouts that come to mind are The Tunnel (2011) and Lake Mungo (2015), two features that brilliantly blend documentary and found footage formats and create something truly unsettling. So after watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, I looked for a film that retained the same sensibilities – and stumbled upon Savageland.


Now Savageland is a film that I have known about for some time (we reviewed it on the site when it was released) but I haven't actually seen it myself. The set up this docuhorror is really great. On the Arizona/Mexico border, an entire settlement is wiped out overnight. 57 people are brutally killed and suspicion falls on the lone survivor, a man named Francisco Salazar, who is found covered in the blood of at least 12 different victims. Salazar is virtually non-responsive to questions and the police (and local residents) are convinced that he is responsible for the third biggest mass murder in American history. Thing is, when Salazar was arrested, he was carrying a camera and although there was no film in that camera, guess what? It soon turns up. It seems that Salazar took 36 photos that fateful evening and they are all the stuff of nightmares...

Watching this as a double bill with an Unsolved Mysteries episode was something of a masterstroke in retrospect. The most important element with all docuhorrors is that they feel authentic and Savageland passes that test with flying colours. The majority of the film is talking heads and interviews and there are a whole host of characters that are involved. Local police, lawyers, locals, relatives of the victims, relatives of the suspect, photographers, psychiatrists and for the most part they are entirely convincing. The documentary format is also handled really well too with all the elements and little touches you'd expect in a real life doc. Like all good docs, it also has enough surprises and twists to keep you hooked into, let's face it, is mainly just a bunch of people talking. Savageland also plays out like an examination of racial tension too and for the first half it sort of feels as if this is the main focus. Animosity towards illegal immigrants, people patrolling the US border – it's stuff that's actually very real and relevant today and this all adds to the sense of realism. The film almost lulls you into thinking you are watching something about immigration or drug cartels for a decent chunk of the running time. And then the photos are examined...


Oh god. There is something really terrifying about photographs isn't there? When I was young I used to be really into anything paranormal or supernatural and used to collect books on ghosts and aliens etc. What I loved more than anything was looking at those old grainy photos of UFOs and ghosts and Nessie (of course, pretty much all of them hoaxes) and my imagination would run riot. A photo still leaves something to the imagination in a way that video footage does not. Lake Mungo delivered some truly chilling moments by merely zooming into photos and showing things that you might not have spotted initially and Savageland does the same. It is these images that the film is built upon. If these images don't work, then the film doesn't work. But holy shit do they work. Giving you specifics of what's on the photos would ruin it for people who haven't yet seen the film but there are a couple of photos that continue to haunt me. Images that are hard to shake and will now be indelibly seared into my brain.

It's a little repetitive in places and there is the odd character who doesn't feel quite as 'real' as the others but on the whole, this is a really gripping 80 minute watch and it's a shame that the film-makers haven't really gone on to do anything since this. It may be five years old but it's proof that found-footage can work a treat if it's in the right hands and done properly.

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