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Preservation (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Earns its merit badge but doesn't make eagle scout."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Wilderness survival movies don't get much more basic than "Preservation", which takes this budget-friendly premise and builds a passable movie out of it. It's not going to change the genre, or even necessarily stand out as particularly innovative among that sub-category, but it delivers what it promises, so it's not a bad choice when you're looking for this sort of movie.

It starts with Sean Neary (Pablo Schreiber) and his brother Mike (Aaron Staton) heading out on a camping trip like the sort they used to go on as kids, reminiscing about all the trouble that they used to get into before Sean went to the army and Mike became attached to his cell phone. It's not just a couple of brothers (and Sean's dog) getting away, though - Mike's wife Wit (Wrenn Schmidt) is there too. And maybe that's not all - when Mike and Wit wake up, their tent has been cut away and Xes are marked on their heads. Sean says he's got a handle on how to find the ones who did it, but Mike can't help but wonder if Sean is all there, what with the discharge even though he says he is just on leave.

Writer/director Christopher Denham doesn't leave this ambiguous for particularly long, which is fine in and of itself; there's actually something kind of refreshing in how Preservation plows ahead more or less without detours: Get to know the characters, put them in danger, and then keep at it until the bleeding's done. Part of the trouble is that sometimes one gets the impression that Denham wants to get a little more ambitious than that - that he wants to comment on the motivation behind the violence - but he doesn't get beyond showing it with an implicit "that's messed up, right?" There's a scene where Wit asks Sean why he was discharged , and the rambling, metaphoric speech he gives in response only gets halfway back to the question.

Giving a little more rope, maybe the viewer doesn't want anything resembling social commentary in their thrillers, but even in that case, Denham's script is either clunky or his direction overemphasizes things. Why do people put that bear trap down other than to accidentally step on it when running for their lives later (seriously, why? It doesn't even seem like a good idea at the time!)? Or how about the line that anybody can kill if it means self-preservation? And, sure, let's throw a pregnancy test in there, because someone trying to murder you isn't motivation enough.

Denham does handle the action well, though. He establishes space and then uses it well, including in ways that let characters pop out of nowhere without it seeming terribly unlikely. He, cinematographer Nicola Marsh, and editor Brendan Walsh are good at working together to let something pop up in the corner of a screen just enough to get noticed in the tail end of a shot, with less banging out a musical sting than you might expect. And when it gets down to it, things take long enough to get caught up in while still being brutally quick.

The cast may be saddled with basic character types, but they're certainly a decent enough bunch to spend ninety minutes with. Aaron Staton is given the simplest character, but he sells the busy yuppie as having been a handful in his younger days well. Wrenn Schmidt balances the competitiveness and smarts of Wit with her lack of interest in camping, and handles some of her more awkward dialogue about as well as you could hope. Pablo Schreiber does well in having Sean walk the line between being kind of humorously eccentric and potentially dangerous.

They get the job done, with a few jolts but not a whole lot of surprises. A thriller probably should have more of the latter, but if you figure that this movie will mostly be seen when a streaming service sees you like this sort of movie and recommends it, giving the viewer what he or she more or less expects isn't exactly a bad thing.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26683&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/08/14 19:49:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/21/15 Trvrdg Complete rip-off of the Spanish fil, "El Rey de La Montana" 1 stars
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