I know Christopher Denham as an actor, Brit Marling’s costar in Sound of My Voice. So when I saw he’d written and directed a movie, I was interested to see what his point of view as a filmmaker was. Preservation is certainly horrific, but in a survival horror kind of way that qualifies it equally as an action movie.
Mike and Wit Neary (Aaron Staton and Wrenn Schmidt) go on a camping weekend with Mike’s brother Sean (Pablo Schrieber), a discharged veteran who seems unstable. Wit and Mike have some friction because he keeps using his cell phone and she has some important news to tell him. Then they wake up with their tent stolen, along with their clothes and supplies and it’s a fight for survival against the people who took them.
This is a relentless chase, and Wit in particular becomes a badass protector after the men are injured. Seeing her covered in dirt and caked with blood by the end puts her in league with cinema’s greatest badasses. The pace reminds me of You’re Next, although not as comedic. Yet the moments of dark comedy cut deep.
The killers are mostly silent, except for a very clever device by which they communicate amongst themselves. They taunt our heroes with unspoken threats: bloody artifacts hanging in plain view, temptations just out of reach. They confine their targets and then attack, leading to some thrilling tight quarters sequences. There’s a great outhouse scene, and I’ve seen many outhouse scenes. It’s not quite Headhunters but it’s way better than the Slumdog Millionaire outhouse scene.
The action is shot really well, with framing used to hide characters’ entrances and exits from scenes. Quick cuts take us through some of the busy work of survival. We only need to see a snippet of bandaging a wound or finding some pants to throw on. Don’t dwell on that. Save the focus for the awesome self-surgery scene. The materials wit uses for stitches is pretty Rambo of her! We also get some jump cuts as Wit navigates some difficult obstacles, again conveying an extended struggle as economically as possible.
Mike emerges from a bear trap relatively unscathed. His foot is cut but no damage to his ankle, so that’s relatively lucky he only tiptoed into the bear trap. It’s fine, he wouldn’t be badass enough to survive a broken ankle. Only Wit can handle the heavy badass stuff.
Denham sets up the geography of the preservation via sound. We may not know the exact layout, and their disorientation is a factor, but sound connects disparate actions by traversing the woods instantly. Preservation is a great survival action movie, and I’d love to see Wrenn Schmidt become the new badass heroine.