Three hired guns find themselves in over their heads after a routine rescue mission goes from bad to worse in Jean Luc Herbulot’s Saloum. It’s a story filled with twists and turns and a gripping, manic energy that mashes up nearly all of your favorite genres. If you strung all its genre components together you’d likely have a list stretching from one side of the theatre to the other. It’s a horror-western-revenge-crime-shoot-em-up with monsters and curses and mysticism. Some of those elements come crashing against each other like oil and water but mostly, it’s a rockin’ good time.
Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah), and Minuit (Mentor Ba) are legendary mercenaries, tied up in the 2003 coup d’état of Guinea-Bissau. Amid the chaos of this violent government takeover, they’ve been hired to extract a drug dealer and his suitcases of cocaine & gold. The fuel tank of their plane is damaged in the escape and the group is forced to make an emergency landing outside the coastal region of Senegal.
“[Saloum] opens with gunfights in war-torn city streets and it closes with a monster mash in a cursed land.”
From there, it’s an 8-hour hike to the closest encampment for fuel and resin to repair the plane. Entering a holiday encampment in Saloum, the group disguise themselves as gold miners but secrets are hard to keep from the camp’s organizer and fellow “tourist” Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen) who seems to know everything about Chaka and his fellow hyenas.
Trapped in this resort village until they can find supplies, Saloum plays out like sun-baked Hateful Eight with characters trapped in a single location, forced to play nice or play dead. Of course, before safe passage presents itself, secrets are exposed, dark truths are brought out into the light, and bullets fly.
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Like a genre-bending, West African Robert Rodriguez flick, Saloum comes out gun-blazing. It loses some of that steam, unfortunately, in a slightly confusing finale but it’s a high-octane thriller through-and-through. Herbulot creates an explosive world of killers and monsters (both human and otherworldly) pulling from real-life tragedy and classic folklore.
When Saloum shifts gears it shifts hard but from frame one it barrels along with a brick stuck on the gas pedal. It opens with gunfights in war-torn city streets and it closes with a monster mash in a cursed land.
The impact of Saloum‘s surprising third act was lost on me a little bit but I’m going to chalk that up to my unfamiliarity with the lore. There are myths and legends at play in this action-horror hybrid that I’m sure hit a lot harder if you have some background knowledge in African folklore.
For the uninitiated, it’s like trying to watch From Dusk Till Dawn without ever hearing about vampires, or how they work. It made the latter half of the movie a little harder to follow, but don’t let that stop you from checking this one out. It’s still a full-on sensory assault, and one hell of a classic revenge story.
“…a full-on sensory assault, and one hell of a classic revenge story.”
Jean Luc Herbulot’s Saloum celebrated its North American Premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full festival coverage and be sure to let us know what you would do if you discovered your holiday vacation spot was cursed over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!
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