How To Save Us, the new film by the co-director of The FP, Jason Trost, is a minimalist ghost story that deals more with family trauma, and some light soul searching than traditional scares. That’s not to say the film isn’t creepy, it’s just that the “scares” are often more cerebral in nature. This one’s all about tone and atmosphere, often wallowing in wordless silence, only being broken by the old timey tunes played over a hand cranked radio, as the characters listen for bursts of static containing ominous messages from beyond.
The framing device for the film is really unique and interesting. The island of Tasmania has been quarantined. There’s not much of an explanation given to either the characters or the audience. On the surface it seems like a virus of some sort has stricken the small piece of land-mass, and almost everyone immediately evacuated. The main protagonist, Brian, receives a mysterious package from his brother, Sam, that contains a warning and a survival guide of sorts called, How To Save Us. Everything, at first, is incredibly vague, but not without purpose. It gives the narrative the pull of a mystery story, as we side by side with the characters discover everything together.
From a structural standpoint, using the How To Save Us manual from the get go works really well. It gives the movie a kind of episodic structure, every rule basically correlating to a few scenes and then we move on to the next one. It’s basically telegraphing what is to come, giving you just enough context to understand what the rules mean in context to the world. It’s also essentially telling you when you should be scared. For instance, the most used tension building device, the way the film uses radio static. Every time you hear static come crackling through, it’s almost certain that something bad is going to happen. Well, almost. The film makers do a good job of subverting your expectations, and keeping you on your toes.
It’s not all just mood and atmosphere, though, there’s also a story being told here, but most of it lurks in the sub-text until some late film reveals. It’s about familial bonds, and being haunted by your past; not being able to let go. Those things take literal form, some ethereal, some more tangible, but every step that the characters take towards their destination reveals the truth of who they are, what they’ve done, and why they’ve done it.
There’s some clever twists at the end of the movie, but, if I’m being honest, they don’t feel completely earned, and it would have been nice to have some backstory stuff peppered throughout the main narrative. I just think it would have helped drive home some of the movies revelations. Also, there is kind of a deus ex machina type of thing at the end that felt a little out of place in the way it’s presented, but it honestly probably has to do with the budget limitations. The last act feels rushed through at times, and it feels at odds with the rest of the movie’s pace. Having said that, my gripes are pretty minor at the end of the day. It’s not a huge detriment to the movie, or anything. In other words, you’ll get over it!
Like I said at the the top, this is a really minimalist flick. Everything is sparse, from dialogue, to characters, to extras. Everything about this movie was built to be made on an anemic budget and with a really small cast. Now, I don’t mean that as a slight, and I’m not making excuses for it either. It’s a really well put together production. Special notice needs to be give to the director of photography, Phil Miller. That guy shot the hell out of this movie, and a lot of the film’s successes are a direct result of his work. Really stellar stuff. Especially considering that this movie was made for around $20,000, which, again, is not an excuse, it’s a testament to the talent of this small group.
There’s a kind of survival-horror game vibe to a lot of the shots, as most of them are static and characters move from one side of it to another and then the angle shifts. For those of you out there that played the original Resident Evil games back in the day, it’s a neat little extra.
You can tell that this is a real labor of love on the part of the creators, and considering the budget they had to work with, they should be more than proud of what they accomplished. The only technical issue I actively noticed was some audio mixing stuff, which is a little distracting but not that big of a deal, really.
The film’s minimal SFX work is pretty well done, especially the ghosts. They really stood out to me while watching the film, which probably has to do with the fact that they are partially practical and they seem to have a real weight and presence to them. It makes me happy to see people going back to practical effects, especially in the independent scene.
I’ve been a fan of Jason Trost’s for a few years now, and it’s really great seeing him get better and better at his various functions. The acting, the writing, and the directing all continue to impress, and inspire me to finally go out and make something myself. It’s good old fashioned can-do film making, and that’s pretty fucking rad.
I’m not certain what the release schedule for this is going be like. It’s already had it’s limited theatrical run(As far as I know, anyways), but I heard something about it coming out on VOD sometimes in August of this year. Check out the How To Save Us Facebook page to keep up to date. It’s definitely worth your time.
Just as a side note, Jason Trost is currently in pre-production for his next flick, The Last Superhero. It’s a documentary style sequel to All Superheroes Must Die, his first movie. You can find out more info about the film on it’s IndieGoGo page. I’m actually really interested to see what he gets up to with this thing, so if you got some extra scratch laying around, or in your couch cushions, or something, why not go support a true independent. No, it won’t make you a better person, but it might make you feel like less of an asshole. So, there’s that!