Savageland (2015)

Rating: B+

Dir: Phil Guidry, Simon Herbert, David Whelan
Star: J.C. Carlos, Noe Montes, Lawrence Ross, George Lionel Savage

While both this and Yancey McCord: The Killer That Arizona Forgot About are mockumentaries about mass murder incidents in the state of Arizona, they couldn’t be more different in their execution. Yancey was utterly implausible from the get-go. While this concerns a much more extreme event, you would certainly be forgiven I’d you reached for your phone to do some informative Googling afterward. It purports to be a documentary about the biggest mass murder in the history of the state. The southern border town of Sangre de Cristo, population 57, is wiped out overnight. The sole survivor, and obvious suspect – not least because he’s covered in multiple victims’ blood – is illegal immigrant Francisco Salazar (Montes).

Case closed, right? Certainly, local Sheriff John Parano (Savage) has no doubts, and the wheels of justice are quickly set in motion, sending Salazar towards a swift date with a needle. However, investigative journalist Lawrence Ross (Ross) suspects racism is behind this summary decision, and his suspicions are confirmed when he is sent the last spool of film shot by Salazar – an amateur photographer – which appears to tell the true story of what happened in the small settlement that night. The problem is, what the 36 blurry shots reveal is simply too unbelievable, depicting a town ravaged by creatures between ghouls and zombies, who tore apart the inhabitants before moving on. Salazar’s near-catatonia regarding events don’t exactly help his case either.

It’s all very well-assembled, and absolutely looks like a true crime documentary, mixing interviews, location footage and the photos themselves, which may be the creepiest thing of all. At times initially, the movie did feel like it was banging the “xenophobia’s to blame!” drum too incessantly, but near the end, it manages to pull almost a 180. Ross rejects reality too, and proclaims the whole event a hate crime committed by the state of Arizona – a theory as wildly inaccurate as the Sheriff’s. And we discover the creatures came from the South… which would be in Mexico. Hmm, maybe border security isn’t such a bad thing after all? The only person who is genuinely committed to the truth is border patrol officer Carlos Olivares (Carlos), and for obvious reasons, no-one is buying what he’s selling.

It helps that everyone here looks exactly like the role they are playing. Savage looks like a rural sheriff; Ross is almost the cliché of a crusading journalist (and did indeed write the books shown in the film!). Salazar may be the film’s biggest stretch. Not many illegal immigrants have “photographing road-kill” as a hobby – yet he’s also incapable of capturing a single sharp, in focus image when it really matters. However, Montes’s performance helps rescue things, being a very good example of the less is more school of acting. The pacing overall is excellent too, bringing the audience on a journey from mundane brutality through to something far worse. It’s definitely one of the best horror films to be set in Arizona.