SAVAGE STATE is not really horror, but more of a slow-adventure family-drama, set during the start of the Civil War. Directed and written by David Perrault, it stars Alice Isaaz, Kevin Janssens, and Armelle Abibou.
As a family of French settlers, our protagonist family is doing well for themselves despite some ties to some underbelly Victorian shenanigans. Three older sisters live and thrive within their small Missourian town, with the exception of “ahead-of-her-time-emo” Esther (Alice Isaaz), who is more into reading depressing novels and doing Voodoo with their housekeeper, Layla (Armelle Abibou).
When an altercation with the drunken, odious Northern “Yankee” soldiers (which is an admittedly rare switcheroo), the parents decide that living in America is too dangerous for their daughters and set out towards New York, to eventually make it back to Paris. Surprisingly, there are NO trains involved (even though they were around) and they start to walk their way to New York. Literally, the women all walk while the guys are on horses/carts. There is a payoff to this set-up, but I won’t spoil it.
Since the trails will be difficult and dangerous, the mysterious merc-for-hire Victor (Kevin Janssens) joins the group. But as sparks begin to fly with Esther, Victor’s dark past comes back to haunt him, stalking the family in the process.
Will true love prevail? Will this dysfunctional family become closer? And are they seriously going to walk the entire way to New York?
Actually, I liked the first act of SAVAGE STATE and the last act despite that it was a bit over-the-top, but enjoyably so. But, hoo boy, that second act dragged on forever. Especially since most of it was in slo-mo or completely silent-staring at each other for dramatic effect.
While I did like some of the characters and was grateful that the only Black character had a name and plot and everything, there are some problematic areas. While it was female-driven, each woman was basically in it for some D.
The main protagonist and antagonist are into the same bearded stud, Victor, and that’s what ultimately forces the main conflict. The antagonist, after being brushed off by Victor, goes crazy stalker levels (complete with trance-dance by the fire). The protagonist’s secret weapon, though, is that, like, maybe this dude isn’t worth it and she can do it alone. In a way, there could be hints of a feminist plot; however, I think that’s squinting and, if that’s the story, would also alienate the bro’s (since they’re just there to move the plot at that point). While the end does veer from the beginning in perhaps a symbolic way, it’s either a subtle message or I’m reading too much into it.
That being said, the story was fine. The second part could have chunks removed and it would have flowed better. I thought motivations were murky throughout. The acting, though, was quite good.
But let’s talk about the scenery and lighting for ten hours. The cinematography (props to Christophe Duchange), locations (kudos to Suzanne De Carufel), and different lighting styles were intoxicating. Seriously, it’s a gorgeous film. The lush landscapes, the stiff Victorian houses, and the cold mountain wilds are stunning. The variety of lighting matched the tone perfectly and enhanced each scene, particularly the final showdown. The music (Sébastien Perrault), while repeated a bit often, was engaging and I appreciated the diegetic music, as well.
If you like period pieces about family drama, you’ll probably enjoy SAVAGE STATE, but be prepared to fast-forward in the middle. Me? I would like a little more Voodoo and a lot less of girls walking around the wilderness pining for some dudes.
Samuel Goldwyn Films will release the period drama SAVAGE STATE On Demand and Digital on January 29, 2021.