Following in the footsteps of Eden Lake (2008) and King of the Hill (2007), Preservation is another film that slots into the sub –genre of survivalist horror, which alongside ‘house invasion’ narratives often have the potential to descend into formulaic boredom. Thankfully Shutter Island / Argo actor Christopher Denham manages to craft a horror with believable character relationships, beautiful cinematography and antagonists that reflect prescient themes of technology, the wilderness and youth.
The plot is a fairly formulaic one with ex – marine Sean and his brother Mike, along with Mikes’ wife Wit, heading out on a hunting trip doubling as a distraction from their problems. Ignoring the ‘closed’ sign and heading into an overgrown nature preserve their brief bonding is soon shattered by their gear being stolen while they sleep. Turning on each other immediately, they soon find out they are being stalked by a group of elusive hunters and from then on the survivalist trials and tribulations begin.
What impressed me the most about Preservation was the script, as the audience spends a good 30 – 40 minutes observing the characters before the horrors begin and despite the characters cliché types – survivalist soldier with ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ / corporate city slicker frustrated by lack of phone reception- their expository dialogues are engaging and fascinating. Especially when a camp fire story explores the tale of the Greek god of hunting Artemis, once a young girl who through transformative survivalist trials became immortal, identifying Wit (Wren Schmidt) as the wildcard survivor and getting you psyched for the inevitable empowering Predator mud scene.
While the film isn’t heavy on gore, it gains most of its tension from the isolation and thrill of ‘the hunt’, with a few standout scenes taking place in a creepy taxidermy museum and dreaded communal portaloo. Yet when the identity of the hunters is revealed the film also intelligently widens its thematic scope to the relationship between the individual and the wilderness. When it is revealed (spoiler alert) that the masked assailants are children, inspired by violent videogames with one killer even suffering from asthma, the whole dynamic of survival becomes problematic, posing the question of whether becoming a true survivor means transforming like Artemis into an amoral, instinctual animal that is willing to kill to survive.
If Eden Lake took a quite sensationalist approach to suburban fears of anti – social behavior, Preservation creates a much more subdued and intelligent tone , with characters that feel like real people and Denham gleefully subverting horror conventions throughout. While no means a masterpiece, Preservation is a functional, entertaining and thought provoking genre piece, with poignant performances and a exploration of our own personal relationships with the ‘great outdoors’, whether it be a paradise retreat, place of discovery or a murderous post – apocalyptic playground.
Director: Christopher Denham
Cast: Wren Schmidt, Aaron Staton, Pablo Schreiber, Nick Saso, Michael Chacon
Runtime: 90 mins