Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot, 2022)
Folk horror has been all the rage in recent years. Like most trends that step into the mainstream limelight, the output has been a mixed bag. Enter Jean Luc Herbulot's effort Saloum to rectify this situation. Saloum is something of genre bender as it mixes crime caper, revenge western, mystery thriller and folk horror all in the same cauldron. The final result is a refreshing witch's brew which stands out from all the current crop of mumblecore tripe masquerading as "elevated horror".
Herbulot's film offers plenty of positive highlights; the biggest being the dynamic composition of the legendary trio of mercenaries known as Bangui's Hyenas. These three very unique and distinctive characters, exert great chemistry on-screen; their leader, Chaka, played by Yann Gael, is the essential cog linking all the events in the film. After their extraction of a Mexican drug lord from a fatal hotspot in Guinea-Bissau, the trio make a pit stop at a remote tourist resort in Sine-Saloum, Senegal. All is not what it seems, and it's at this point where the film weaves from a tense neo-western style thriller to its superstitious folklore narrative. This is all achieved impeccably well.
Breathtaking cinematography and exotic locations are instant standouts. Found myself repeatedly asking how come there aren't more genre films from the African continent making their way over here like this? None of that Asylum style Wakaliwood claptrap, nor hipster bait like Fried Barry (2020); I'm talking about a proper genre flick from this continent. The last serious attempt which I can recall was all the way back in 2011 with the Fulci inspired zombie movie, The Dead, by the Ford brothers. Really ought to state my relief that Saloum isn't another Poundland version of The Witch (2015), nor is it some incomprehensible, alternative drama catered towards its pompous director's Twitter followers. Not only does its Sine-Saloum geography make it so distinctive from all the other traditional European based folk horror, but its use of Senagalese fables makes it all the more unique as well.
A crying shame then, that the horror themed showdown is in some measure underwhelming following such a well delivered build-up. Whether or not it's due to low production resources, the realisation of the supernatural entities that the gallant Hyenas encounter appear as surprisingly anticlimactic. These humanoid shaped swarms of insects and fire embers, look a bit farcical whenever they are shot at. Also, shame on all those critics who conveniently sidestepped this observation in their reviews. It's still a fine film, but it's an issue which sullies what's otherwise an impressive effort for me.
Enjoyed Saloum; despite the one and only lingering real issue that I had with it. In any case, it's still a noble effort and well worth checking out.