Preservation (2014) Film Review from the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), a movie directed by Christopher Denham and starring Wrenn Schmidt, Aaron Staton, Pablo Schreiber, Cody Saintgnue, Nick Saso, and Michael Chacon.
There’s no shortage of films that are explicitly about our society’s relationship to technology. As our computers and phones get more advanced, it seems we become increasingly dependent on them – to the point where we might not know how to survive without them if we needed to.
That’s the general idea behind Preservation, a horror film about three people who must find their way back to civilization after all of their possessions are stolen from their campsite, including (gasp!) their cell phones. The film establishes a dry, ironic tone early on, often making it just as funny as it is suspenseful. This is important, as a third-act twist nearly derails the film entirely, but is made just funny enough to work.
Preservation’s three main stars should be recognizable to anybody with a cable box. Aaron Staton (Mad Men) plays Mike Neary, the member of the group most clearly dependent on technology. Wrenn Schmidt (Boardwalk Empire) plays Mike’s exasperated wife, Wit Neary, while Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) plays his veteran brother Sean. The easy chemistry between the three leads is a large part of what makes the film work. Before they’re running for their life, they joke around, they reminisce about their childhoods, they hunt together. These people feel like a real family, and that might be the film’s greatest strength.
The film reminded me a bit of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, another horror film about a family attempting to survive that featured a dry, humorous wit. But You’re Next was more overtly comedic, and was less accomplished at crafting worthwhile scares. Preservation is the opposite: its humor is there, but it is usually downplayed, and it creates some of the tensest sequences I’ve seen in recent memory.
It is in its third act where Preservation began to run out of steam. Some of its best scenes are here, but what happens on screen begins to become so ludicrous that it is hard to take seriously. Luckily, the film seems to know this and plays along with it, getting a huge laugh during what many films would have as their big climactic moment. Director Christopher Denham displays an ability to play along with the audience, subverting their expectations while giving them exactly what they want.
Simply put, Preservation is a ton of fun. It’s short, sweet, tense, funny, and blood-pumping all at once. It’s a balancing act of so many different tones that it’s a wonder the film is able to sustain them all, but it manages to do so successfully. In a modern cinema landscape of bleak, humorless horror films, Preservation separates itself from the pack by winking at the audience and saying that, yes, it’s OK to have a good time.
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