Saloum (FANTASTIC) Is a Sleek and Spiritual Supernatural Horror Action Hybrid
First Non-Festival Release: TBD
Director: Jean Luc Herbulot
Writer: Pamela Diop, Jean Luc Herbulot
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Starring: Yann Gael, Evelyn Ily Juhen, Roger Sallah
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
A trio of mercenaries flee Buinea-Bissau via plane with a druglord in tow when they find themselves in need of an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. Chaka (Yann Gael) leads the group, Rafa (Roger Sallah) is the muscle, and Minuit (Mentor Ba) offers more restraint through his spiritual and shrewd role in the group. After a day’s journey they end up at a camp hotel where they must trade chores for a place to stay. The atmosphere is already tense given how far they strayed from their plans, but it gets much worse when a police officer arrives and one of the other guests threatens to out them if they don’t take her with them.
I appreciate that Saloum never quite becomes the movie you expect it to be, only to become something even cooler than you envision. Infused with African mythology, it is written in a way that demystifies the more conceptual components that are harder to digest for those that are not acquainted with its origins. It never gets too expository, however, due to the writer’s ability to keep it concise. In the end, all actions make sense, and the film has a nice resolution to it that is lacking in many horror films. I personally love the redirection we get as an audience. It makes the film more interesting and provides a more chilling approach to the horrors experienced by the group.
Saloum is a classic tale of revenge sinking everyone in the end. No matter how justified it may be, it can still spell your doom and ruin whatever life you could have made for yourself. This sort of messaging may ring a bit tired, but it’s universal. The application to a heist gone wrong film makes it feel fresher than it would for other setups. While it touches on many things including the treatment of children, which is a baked into every aspect of the film.
The production behind the film adds to its already intriguing and refreshing story. The effects are outstanding for an entity that is so hard to articulate. Its design is not only creative but also terrifying. It’s constantly morphing and changing its shape while still holding humanoid form. An absolute marvel of both technology and writing, it’s something I’m confident that I have not seen before this. The cast does a great job making it feel real too. It’s interesting to watch the main crew shift from stoic and at the top of the world to showing anguish and fear to and for one another.
The cinematography is also excellent. I love the bleak feel of the landscape. It subverts the western tropes of Africa as this continent that is either a jungle in need of bright shading or a desert in need of various sepia tones. Instead, we are treated to negative tones to showcase the true emptiness of the land that holds the protagonist’s hostage. The entire film has this intensity and unpredictability about it that is matched by its regular use of shaky cam and quick shots. Certain scenes intentionally feel so different from the rest of the film due to the rapid jerkiness of the camera. It’s a great way of showing just how terrifying the experience is and how that affects the film moving forward and looking back.
Dark, bleak, and an overall impressive film, Saloum is likely the brightest gem in the rough of films at this fest that will take a while for wider audiences to see. Filled with re-direction, interesting visuals, and even more compelling character arcs, Saloum hits hard. My biggest criticisms can mostly be addressed to budgetary issues. It isn’t wholly top-notch through it’s run through. Some of the leads feel less developed than they should and it’s quick and to-the-point storytelling makes it harder to keep pace with the ever-changing circumstances the crew finds themselves fighting against. Chaka by far has the most meat to his character which leaves the other two to follow his lead for most of the film. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for a film as tight as Saloum, a bit of extra time with our leads wouldn’t have hurt the pace too much.
Unexpected twists and striking characters make Saloum a poster child for everything great about Fantastic Fest. Unique storytelling and gripping action sequences make this Senegalese import stand out from the crowd of supernatural horror films that are released each year. Fearless in tackling its dark subject matter while executing some solid worldbuilding, Saloum treats its audience with a genre film they have likely not seen in any form beforehand. If you are finding yourself lost in the sea of endless horror films, put this one on your list to be guided out of the repetition. Who knows, maybe you’ll get out alive.
Overall Score? 7/10