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John’s Horror Corner: Saloum (2021), a truly wonderfully executed crime thriller about trauma and revenge, followed by some ill-fitting supernatural horror.

February 12, 2023

MY CALL: This is an elite production of a crime thriller executed perfectly for 60 minutes, followed by something of a not-so-elite horror ending. But the good (in fact, the great) here tremendously outweighs what I considered the lesser aspects. So watch this and be dazzled. If our tastes differ, perhaps you’ll enjoy being dazzled for the full 90 minutes. But make no mistake. Despite my strong criticism, this is a strong recommendation for all film fans. MORE MOVIES LIKE Saloum: I struggle to conjure similar fare without simply saying the best of Guy Ritchie.

Wow. The almost addictive atmosphere of the opening scenes is… it’s energizing. A paramilitary hit squad navigates the casualty-littered streets on their way to “decommission” the local drug trade in a power coup. But as they position themselves before engaging, they step in tune to the soundtrack like an unintentional music video while the presentation of very hard violence is delivered with a tongue-in-cheek editing style smacking of a Guy Ritchie crime film. You see the intensity of this land and these militants, but you bob your head to the music during this almost “fun” introduction to a very rough people in a very rough part of the world.

Then the scene changes with the scoring, another riveting musical choice that almost feels like the scene change cued the start of a new level of some stylish new FPS game. If you watched this already, I’ll bet you remember thinking to yourself “I need to look up these songs!” Meanwhile, we are treated to beautiful shots of African landscapes. Good Lord, the music, camerawork and editing in this film! Chef’s kisses. Director Jean Luc Herbulot is on to something, and you’ll notice he loves using shoes during his visual storytelling.

Our gang escapes a conflict in Guinea Bissau and are forced to land their plane unexpectedly, but thankfully, in Saloum, where there is a preserve; a sanctuary previously visited by Cheike (YannGael; 1899). It is a place not of financial transactions between guest and owner, but of shared care and maintenance of the retreat. They plan to stay three nights. But the composition of the other guests at this sanctuary poses threats and challenges to the secrecy of our criminals. And that threat tears at the trust within our trio.

Eventually, the Guy Ritchieness tones down, along with the fast paced action and scoring and editing. Now we are immersed in more of a mystery/crime thriller in the Saloum retreat among the guests. We find past trauma, revenge, mystery, plotting… too many people seem to know their secrets at this preserve. The urgency is to get out of there as soon as they can, before their cover is blown.

When things wander into the supernatural, I was much less engaged. I preferred the crime thriller to the eventual horror spin. We encounter shaky CGI-blurred dust devils of spiritual pestilence, like miniature locust swarms. The spirits are… really weak in my opinion. I’m going out of my way to be really polite about this since the first hour was top-tier excellent as a crime thriller. But I did not care for the last 30 minutes (i.e., the supernatural portion) at all. Their rules, their purpose, their appearance, their special effects… this blew a flat. Worse, I didn’t care for any more for the actions or words of any of the characters—all of which I found flawlessly engaging in the previous 60 minutes.

But look, if you think I didn’t like this film because of that, then you need to re-read the first four paragraphs. I’ll not let, what in my opinion was 30 ill-fitting minutes of a totally different movie jammed into this elite production of a crime thriller, ruin or smear the cinema perfection of the beginning and middle. I really want to track back to that. When was the last time you thought a film was “perfect” for 60 straight minutes? Even if only because “most” things were done so seamlessly well, so engagingly, that the critical portion of your mind shut off and you were simply wowed…? THAT is how I felt, and now I want to see whatever Jean Luc Herbulot does next.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2023 1:18 pm

    Sounds interesting! Hate that the final act seems to have flopped but I’m curious to see the first sixty minutes. Thanks for bringing this one to our attention.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      February 14, 2023 5:17 pm

      Totally worth it. Solid director with a fine vision… until the horror.

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