Preservation review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
In the hands of commercial horror producers, a script like Preservation would be a tired slasher picture in the woods. A group of adults venture into the great outdoors for some camping and end up being hunted. It sounds all too standard for a horror picture, but actor-turned-director Christopher Denham manages to makes something so simple much more entertaining than it should be.
Make no mistake, however, as this doesn’t break too far from the slasher target gallery. The good news is that the targets are actually real people. Their not despicable beings who deserve torment, nor perfect beings of happiness. Wit and Mike decide to take a trip into the middle of the woods to hopefully become more attached and serious about their marriage. It’s a rather tough order given Mike’s obsession with work via his cell phone and the third wheel of his veteran brother Sean. They’re not all predictable and they’re not all saints. Wit isn’t much for hunting, but doesn’t shy away from cutting up a dead deer with her nursing experience. Sean may seem like he’s the most level-headed of the group, but he still has his own demons in the form of PTSD. And while Mike means well for both of them, he’s distant and paranoid of Sean’s relationship towards his wife.
These little moments of character provide a decent distraction for when the trio stupidly travel onto a closed nature preserve. As the stress between them builds, they wake up the next morning with their tent and camping gear gone. It isn’t long before they find themselves running for survival as they are hunted by a gang that lurks in the distance. Concealed in skull-designed masks and moving via bicycles, a young group of hoodlums take aim at the camping adults with rifles and knives. Eventually, only three of the group is left and the one remaining has to go into Rambo mode for survival.
The punk kids who terrorize this lot of campers are nothing all that special. They’re just some teenagers who hunt for sport before mom calls them home for dinner. There is no sinister motivating force of a society that has wronged them or the old hat of inbred spawns of the backwoods. Their murders seemed to be inspired out of boredom. That being said, their methods are quite effective for some nihilistic youth. The travelers mark a smiley face on a tree to find their way back, but the killers paint plenty of smiley faces all over for them to become lost. They setup an array of traps around the woods from rope slings to bear traps. Even the way they silently communicate through their phones is pretty smart. As far kids hunting adults, these are some of the most efficient little devils I’ve seen on film.
While I admire the craftsmanship of creating a thrilling run-for-your-life scenario in the woods, the film still falls into some mighty big pits of the horror genre. Have you ever been annoyed by a victim turning their back to a killer having not confirmed if they’re actually dead? Preservation trots this trope out quite liberally not once, but twice. I don’t mind these moments when they come as genuine surprises, but how many times can a thrill be generated from turning your back to the killer when their death has not been confirmed nor their weapons disarmed? I’m not expecting these simple tourists to become expert tacticians in field combat, but have none of them ever seen a horror movie? Such staged moments for death made it much harder to appreciate the well-shot scenes of being stalked through the mountains, hunted in a dark cabin or stabbed through the walls of a porta potty.
Preservation may stomp on familiar territory for this horror genre, but it still has some bits of originality in crafting an intense outing of backwoods survival. It’s a solid example of taking a standard horror template that seems worn and gives it just enough of a fresh coat of paint to make it decent. Cliche and trope-heavy as it may be, I have to applaud the effort at making a horror film that tantalizes a sensationally original terror tale. If only it had put a little more effort into its direction and kills, this could’ve been the sleeper hit it was most likely aiming to be.