PLOT: A lethally unknowable virus has wiped out the island of Tasmania. In one last ditch effort to rescue his missing little brother Sam, Brian is tasked with traveling across the barren Aussie wasteland among a throng of ghosts. Will he find his brother? Will they make it out alive?
REVIEW: Actor turned writer/director Jason Trost, best known for his sci-fi-comedy THE FP and sci-fi-thriller ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE, is back with his new viral micro-budget ghost story HOW TO SAVE US. Made for a measly $20,000, the film expectedly and unfortunately amounts to little more than a glorified home movie, or amateur film, or student project...whichever one you find least demeaning. I say that because, conceptually, there are some pretty cool aspects of HOW TO SAVE US and the unique mythos it puts forth. The problem is, they're largely expository, conveyed via lengthy voice-over, and never really accompanied by a compelling visual payoff. Too much talk, too little action. So while I admire Trost for having the gumption to attempt a feature length film with such little money, in the end, HOW TO SAVE US is too lonely and languorous to find any real salvation.
39 days have passed since Tasmania was ravaged by an unidentifiable virus. The entire island has been quarantined. Brian (played by Trost himself), an eye-patched, power-glove-rocking badass in desperate search for his missing young bro Sam (Coy Jandreau), must figure out a safe way of traversing the sickened landscape and complete his search and rescue mission. But this isn't your normal contamination we're talking about, oh no. Turns out the island has been plagued by a legion of ghosts that have exploited the many Earthly portals and hotspots as a means of crossing the ethereal plane, contacting, and ultimately threatening, humanity. Tough draw for our Snake Plissken-Tim Roth lookalike in this groggy and barren MAD MAX meets THE ROAD doomsday scenario. How will it all play out?
Also wandering about the gorgeous but infected Tasmanian wasteland is Sam, who manages to stay one step away from his brother's scent. Both brothers, the only two characters of any import mind you, have spooky encounters on their own as they amble across the island, though most of them are auditory in nature...you know, odd ambient static and disjointed blaring sound FX. To my ears, more grating and obnoxious than unsettling. And the few times we do actually catch a glimpse of these so called ghosts, they appear too cheap and unconvincing to induce any sensation of true terror. Poorly designed CG renderings of translucent ghosts come off too cartoonish to be taken seriously here. So instead of an honest to goodness horror flick, this falls further in line with the ponderous, post-apocalyptic, desert-wandering science fiction joints we've seen in large abundance as of late.
What sort of sets the flick apart from that subgenre, and what I liked most about the film, is the imaginative laws and rules and back-story Trost has crafted about the virus itself. How graveyards can actually serve as safe havens in this quarantined area, for instance, or how electricity is used to summon the ghosts. In perhaps my favorite bit of fictionalized lore, I dug how ashes from the dead can be used, when smeared over your body and face, to conceal your identity from the deleterious spirits. All cool ideas on the page and in theory, but they never really bear out in a satisfying way onscreen. That said, one of the other things I dug about the flick was the eerie use of the hillbilly hoedowns as score. Think of the interstitial jingles from O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?...stripped down, homespun, folksy. This creates an effectively disorienting quality of evoking the past while depicting a near futuristic fallout. A nice touch indeed.
But when all is said and done, HOW TO SAVE US is far too hamstrung by the lack of resources its paltry $20,000 budget affords. As a result, the overall experience is too slight, too torpid and too damn contemplative to make up for its lack of compelling action during long stretches of its runtime. Sure, the flick posits some novel mythologies that come as a welcome addition to the post-apocalyptic virus subgenre, but they're too often presented through overwrought speeches rather than viscerally realized activity. I will say this though. There's enough here to certainly warrant keeping track of what Jason Trost does in the future, especially if he's given an actual budget to operate under. As it is at this juncture however, HOW TO SAVE US isn't likely to convert many to its cause. Go see FURY ROAD instead.