Savageland follows a documentary-style montage of news clippings and interviews that break down an incident that occurred in a small American town along the Arizona/Mexican border. In the town, nicknamed Savageland, a lone survivor escapes an unexplained carnage. Blamed for the massacre of the town, the quiet, self-taught photographer documented the violent night in a film roll's worth of haunting images. What really happened in the small town? Could one man really kill an entire population of a small town in one night?
It is common in all genres of film, but perhaps most of all in horror, for a sub-genre or concept to oversaturate the market to the point of butchering its quality. The most common exhibit referenced in these cases is the found footage sub-genre. With that in mind, I would love to see more of Savageland's style in the horror genre. This film isn't the first to exercise this type of documentary filmmaking, but I certainly hope it isn't the last.
Rather than following a ragtag group of 20 somethings into a haunted house, Savageland uses a realistic approach to documentary filmmaking to give this zombie-like tale a sense of physical existence. The film tells its story entirely through the lens of on-screen blurbs, "candid" interviews, news footage, and vague, convincing, and haunting photographs of the incident. The way it is filmed and cut increases 10-fold the impact of the material. It makes it feel like something Michael Moore quickly worked up to try and exaggerate a government conspiracy. There's probably some truth to it, right? We get pulled into the reality of the scenario that never happened. Is this how a zombie apocalypse would really start?
It was like watching a news cast's take on an army of people on bath salts. Nobody is willing to admit what exactly is happening, as probably would be the actual case in reality. Nobody, even the documentary, is willing to commit to a conclusion. Every piece of this film makes it feel like it actually happened.
The true courage and skill it takes to make a film like this is underrated. It takes really good directing to make sure each actor portraying a blue collar interviewee comes across as believable. And for the most part, this is achieved. It takes a very strong perspective on documentary filmmaking and solid cutting to put the story together in a cohesive way and build fear and tension that would otherwise be absent.
Savageland was a refreshing movie due to the execution of a unique style of cinema I'll refer to as "somber mockumentary". There aren't any scares to be had. No jumps. No screams. But there are plenty of moments that will bring your hair up, give you goosebumps, and forget that you're watching fiction. It's an impressively made film, that, despite its "shortcomings" in traditional scares, leaves an impression long after you watch it. What if this happened tomorrow?