A lot of people have tried to bring the atmosphere of Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or any number of adventure games to the bring screen. Finally, it feels like someone pulled it off for real. I've always wanted to see these kind of stories and scenarios put in a movie and it made me absolutely giddy to watch this one get it spot-on. Instead of being over-the-top monsters, action scenes, and wire-work - this film gives us an apocalypse of ghosts with a new lore not yet seen in movies, a minimalist tone that's more akin to Andrei Tarkovsky and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and a story about being there for your real family.
How To Save Us begins with the basic setup of Brian (Jason Trost, also directorwriter) searching for his brother Sam (Coy Jandreau), who was left behind in Tazmania after a mysterious cataclysm. Soon after, we follow the parallel threads of both brothers, as they wander the wasteland and try to avoid violent paranormal entities. Using radios to listen for the ghosts, they begin to get strange transmissions, hearing voices from the ether. Sometimes they're directed at the brothers and sometimes it's a "save us" call from an outpost on an island off the coast. Then things get weird (i.e. awesome).
Although looking and feeling like a world that should have marauders, mutants, zombies, or some other "external" foe, the idea of utilizing ghosts or paranormal phenomenon ends up really spicing things up. According to Sam, who's survived for about a month, the "ghosts" have an aversion to human corpses and ash is used as a camouflage. Furthermore, due to their having an electrical signal quality, the only way to see them is to use cameras, leading to a couple of really tense set-pieces. Towards the end, the question of how to kill or stop them rises and the result is a nerdy little treat for old-school gamers.
From the visuals to the sound design to the art direction, there's a lot to love in this, both for fans of moody horror and for movie-goers wanting a unique experience. By being intentionally bare bones, it allows every little thing to be absorbed and savored, from the elements in Sam's book that help Brian on his quest to the subtle touches in set-dressing that bring the post-evacuation locations to life. The film's broad landscapes look amazing and really bring the sense of solitude when coupled with only a lone figure walking down the road or across a field or through a cemetery. The use of the radio, similar to the Silent Hill and Fallout games, is creepy, consistent, and interesting - you get nervous whenever it starts to act weird and it feels like the haunting echo of the world long past. When the ghoulish creatures appear and the heroes have to use cameras to see them, their design is an eerie and very "alive" animation. It's like a tear in spacetime that is scratching at our world and the screeching synthetic-textured snarls as they approach makes them even scarier. As a fan of this kind of spooky supernatural stuff, I absolutely loved it.
The story is sparse and the performances have moments of hit-or-miss, but there's a lot of heart to it. While not spending much time on-screen together, the brothers' story about their dysfunctional family and what brought them to this remote place far from their home in California, works to let us know who these wasteland wanderers are and what's at stake for them. For having only three on-screen characters (technically a couple more if you count some video playback scenes), it's surprising how engaging this is. A lot of this is on the fact that it's portrayed with the intent of honesty rather than heart-string plucking.
This all leads to the third act, which is easily the best part of the film for me. Silent Hill and other horror games have done the concept of "Nowhere" - which comes in some ways from the delirium sequences of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King - but finally, with an absolute minimalist budget, How to Save Us pulls off the tone of a Nowhere sequence just right, where the revelations of the character and the conclusion of their arc comes together.
That this film didn't get a bigger release is sad and something I don't fully understand. For some this may come off as niche, a horror film that's not too scary or really bloody, whose dark and moody tone and low-budget DIY spirit isn't what most would call traditional. But it's a helluva great experience, especially on the big-screen (admittedly I saw it at the rather-small Clinton St. Theater in Portland, but it still worked), and it's a bummer more people didn't get to share that. Its tight running time of 78 minutes keeps things rather breezy, the charm of its low-tech indie spirit is infectious, and all it wants to do is have fun and give you a good time. That's something worth seeing, if you ask me.
When it finally unleashes on VOD and DVDBlu, I highly recommend this movie. Jason Trost's films are showing he's one of the few independent voices that want to cry out and make movies, for passion and not glory, and he and his crew deserve kudos for pulling off on a shoestring what studios haven't been able to accomplish with millions.
Review by ChrisJayawardena86 from the Internet Movie Database.