The description on Netflix says about Preservation “three urbanites venture into the backwoods for a brush with nature that goes horribly awry when they find themselves being pursued by masked killers“. Now, as anyone alive knows this is one of the least original plot ideas for a horror movie ever. However, I liked the title and the poster and, as most horror fans will tell you, having to judge a book by its cover is a bit of a necessity, so I thought I’d give it a go anyway. And I’m damned glad I did.
I won’t tell you any more about the plot because there really isn’t anything more to say. I think to call the three main character urbanites is a bit of a stretch though. It makes them sound like a punch of pinky liberal weaklings (is that right?) with no reason to be out in the great American unknown. In fact two of the characters are brothers who were brought up hunting in these very here woods by there mean old son of a bitch father. Whilst one of the brothers has become a standard issue workaholic business man obsessed with his mobile phone (wan’t this subplot lifted from Hook?) the other is a traumatised war vet obsessed with basic hunting and tracking skills. The third character is the business brother’s wife, a doctor who describes her first job as holding a teenage boy until he bled to death all over her so has no fear of blood. Not your standard “urbanites”.
Oh, there’s one more character, a dog, so we all know who’s going to die first.
Let’s get things straight right here. We are dealing with a lot of typical horror tropes. There’s the unnecessary dog death of course (this is no longer a spoiler any more as this happens in every horror film with one of our canine friends so get over it), there’s the modern thing of hooded teenagers being the psychopaths and there’s a reasonable amount of smartphone use to create tension/shoot some extra footage on the cheap. But tropes aren’t necessarily bad if the film is made well. And Preservation is made EXCEPTIONALLY well.
You notice how well things are done from the opening scene as our protagonists leave the urban sprawl for the empty country side. The montage shots of the car driving down roads, cutting with music create a sober mood which nicely contrasts with the pretty, sunny landscapes. These end moment is nicely referenced at the end of the movie too, giving a good bit of symmetry and closure.
When we first meet the two brothers we don’t get to see their faces properly, just the back of their heads as they bicker and chat like brothers do. This seems like an odd way to introduce them until you realise we are seeing them from the back of the car, from the point of view of the the third main character. We are seeing their interactions through a third character we haven’t met yet. It’s solid, thoughtful direction from Christopher Denham, and we get this kind of attention to detail throughout the film, even some lovely moments with video recorded on the aforementioned smartphones, which is a bit of a miracle.
What really takes the film up to a slicker level though is the acting. Pablo Schreiber, Aaron Staton as the brothers and Wrenn Schmidt are all seasoned pros, and in some ways could be seen as above such backwater B-movie nonsense (I don’t think that of course, I want to see more great actors in violent horror films) but the script is a solid bit of writing giving the characters enough time to gain our sympathies but flowing well enough in the classic three act structure to give them lots to do. Okay Staton comes off the worst because he had to be the winy businessman bitch but he has enough redemption and attempts at heroism that you don’t hate him by the end. I didn’t even realise Schreiber was the same actor who plays the rotten prison officer in Orange Is The New Black.
The script does give a lot of sign posting for the mayhem to happen, especially when hunter Schreiber tells Schmidt about Artemis the goddess of hunting, how she killed the bear to become immortal, but the actors deliver the lines with conviction so who cares. And really that is what this film is. A movie that embraces its cliches and obvious points and makes them watchable anyway.
Staton has to do the most heavy lifting in the story. Not only is she caught between two brothers and thinks she might be with the wrong one (though really they are both wrong – its like they are two halves of a perfect person, although also two halves of the very wrong person) but also she’s pregnant to boot. She really doesn’t need a bunch of raging lunatics trying to kill her on top of that. Her small height and frame belays an inner strength, but by the final act you are quite sure of her aptitude for self-preservation.
There are a few drops in logic in that final act, certain characters needlessly, and conveniently, split up for example. But then isn’t that too a classic horror trope, albeit an annoying one? The film is so nicely shot, edited, composed and acted that I think all these cliches should be forgiven. I’m not saying that Preservation is going to change the world but it falls nicely into that sub category of small, well made films like The Strangers and No Vacancy where good craftsmen make rock-solid movies working within the restraints of the genre, and good actors get what’s coming to ’em.