As summer gives way to fall and Halloween quickly approaches, Shudder continues to platform a diverse range of horror movies. Everything from obscure old movies to international offerings, the mini-horror Netflix continues to distinguish itself as the best option for international horror fans outside of Screambox. Today, Shudder has released African horror movie, Saloum. From writer and director Jean Luc Herbulot, this stylish mix of crime thriller and horror has created some quiet buzz before its release. Critics are raving about this thriller so it’s certainly warrants a look.
In 2003, three mercenaries – the Bangui’s Hyenas – extract a drug lord from Guinea-Bissau amidst a bloody coup d’etat. While the extraction is successful, a damaged fuel tank cuts the escape short. With few options, the trio opt for an emergency landing in the Saloum region of Senegal. Their arrival at a remote resort raises suspicions – and points to a secret that may unearth hidden horrors.
Saloum Seamlessly Shifts From Genre to Genre
For about a third of the movie, Saloum may feel like an African version of Pulp Fiction. And this is no way intended to be a criticism of the movie. For its first act, Saloum feels like a hip, modestly-budgeted crime thriller that innovates, never betraying financial restraints, and quickly advances its story. Writer and director Jean Luc Herbulot and co-writer Pamela Diop slightly tip their hand early – there’s no mystery as to who has the secret amongst the trio of mercenaries. But that’s the only part of the story that feels obvious. As Saloum transitions the story to its secluded and eccentric resort, Herbulot finds subtle ways of increasing tension while also subverting expectations. Once the mystery reveals itself, audiences will initially think they’ve been watching a mix of western and revenge thriller.
As Saloum transitions the story to its secluded and eccentric resort, Herbulot finds subtle ways of increasing tension while also subverting expectations.
However, Saloum again shifts gears and introduces its horror elements in time for the third and final act. In addition to a clever use of its modest budget to visually represent its monsters, Herbulot and Diop’s story makes the horror elements a necessary extension of the story they crafted. Maybe the absence of a buildup to this shift into horror requires some subsequent exposition. Regardless the story fuses familiar folk horror, African mythology, and a very real painful history into a compelling finale. The thriller’s final 15 to 20 minutes are emotionally gripping and ensure that you won’t easily forget the movie.
Saloum Defined By Its Well-Crafted Characters
Both the character work and performances here are exceptional. Even with its trim runtime, Saloum meticulously develops its characters and their relationships without ever feeling like it’s slowing down. If the characters feel familiar or recycled Herbulot and Diop ensure that there’s an almost surprising amount of depth to each one. In particular, all three mercenaries – and the brotherhood they share – becomes very emotionally affecting in the third act. But even supporting characters feel like real living and breath people. For instance, a Senegalese police officer could easily have been regulated to the role of secondary antagonist. Instead, Saloum invests the character with their own agency against expectations and the result is far more engaging.
If the characters feel familiar or recycled Herbulot and Diop ensure that there’s an almost surprising amount of depth to each one.
Herbulot and Diop’s screenplay – and its attention to character – gets big assists from the performances. Western audiences wont’ be familiar with the cast but they’re uniformly excellent. In what should be a star-making turn, Yann Gael invests ‘Chaka’ with a balance of cool charisma and deep trauma and pain. Though her role is smaller, Evelyne Ily Juhen’s performance looms over every frame she occupies in the movie. Arguably, it’s Roger Sallah’s turn as one of the three mercenaries, ‘Rafa’, that offers the most surprises. Initially, the character seems like a familiar stereotype – the macho, shallow supporting character destined to add to the body count. Yet the third act flips the script and both the performance and screenplay allow the character a growth that only adds to the movie’s pathos.
Saloum a Contender for Best Horror Movie of 2022
From its stylish opening to its crushing emotional finale, Saloum instantly stands out as one of the better horror movies of the year. One could nitpick that Herbulot’s sudden shift into horror territory comes without the ground work being laid. But that’s a pretty minor issue to take with a story so fully realized. What Herbulot accomplishes on a modest budget and in under just 90 minutes is noteworthy. Simply put, Saloum is simultaneously heartbreaking and disturbing with fleshed out characters and a folk horror narrative with an African twist. Aside from being an impressive outing on its own merits, Saloum is the case for the importance of diversity in filmmaking.