The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - SALOUM | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - SALOUM

saloum review
Three mercenaries hide out in a resort harboring dark secrets.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jean-Luc Herbulot

Starring: Yann Gael, Evelyne Ily Juhen, Roger Sallah, Bruno Henry, Marielle Salmier, Mentor Ba

saloum poster

Combining action with horror is a difficult balancing act, as they're two genres that rely on entirely different filmmaking skills. Action requires bombast, horror subtlety. Few filmmakers have managed to pull off the combo, and those who have are mostly to have been named James Cameron and John McTiernan. Congolese filmmaker Jean-Luc Herbulot doesn't quite pull it off with Saloum, but he certainly swings for the fences.

saloum review

Set in 2003, the movie opens in the bloody, corpse-strewn aftermath of a massacre in Guinea-Bissau. Making their way stealthily through the carnage are three mercenaries – Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah) and Minuit (Mentor Ba) – collectively known as Bangui's Hyenas. Hiding in a nearby building they find Felix (Renaud Farah), the Mexican drug smuggler they've been hired to extract, along with his bag of gold bars.

Fleeing by air to the Senegalese capital Dakar, the Hyenas are forced to ground their plane in the remote region of the country that gives the film its name. Having grown up in the area, Chaka is familiar with the land and leads the others to a resort governed by the accommodating Omar (Bruno Henry). Run like a commune with guests paying for their stay by performing tasks rather than contributing financially, the hippy-dippy ethos of the resort clashes with the Hyenas' "every man for themselves" philosophy. But it's a place to lie low until they can repair their plane.

saloum review

Something about this set-up felt nigglingly familiar, and then it clicked. Herbulot has taken Michael Curtiz's classic comedy We're No Angels - in which a trio of hardened criminals hole up in a store run by a kindly shopkeeper who gives all his goods away on credit – and given it a gritty, spaghetti western influenced spin. Just like the anti-heroes of Curtiz's film, the tough Hyenas begin to soften as they see the good Omar is doing for the local community by supplying food and fighting off European poachers. But their true identity is threatened by Awa (Evelyn Ily Juhen), a deaf woman who twigs them upon arrival, having grown up hearing stories of the trio's legendary exploits. There's also a vacationing police captain from Dakar, while Omar may not be all he seems.

It's this middle section of the film that works best, as Herbulot ratchets up the tension and makes us empathise with men who seemed like little more than one-dimensional bandits on first appearance. It's when the supernatural element is introduced in the final act that the movie begins to crumble. Herbulot introduces creatures that get inside the ears of their victims and consume them from the inside out. It's a nice concept, but the creatures are represented as swirling clouds of flies, and I couldn't get the image of Pig-Pen from Peanuts out of my head. The supernatural threat that Herbulot introduces simply isn't as engaging as the various human threats already in place by that point.

saloum review

Herbulot certainly displays talent as a director, keeping things moving at whip-crack pace without ever resorting to the sort of incomprehensible rapid fire editing favoured by so many western action filmmakers. He also does some great work with his actors, telling us so much about his trio of mercenaries not through dialogue but how they look at each other – these are men who have worked so closely for so long they have an almost psychic bond. Team Herbulot up with a writer who can better communicate his themes and ideas and we might see something very special from this filmmaker.

 is on Shudder from September 8th.

2022 movie reviews