Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tribeca ’14: Preservation

We do not read short story writer Richard Connell very much anymore, except for his constantly anthologized “The Most Dangerous Game.” Years after the Joel McCrea-Irving Pichel adaptation, exploitation filmmakers keep “paying homage.” The latest is not the greatest, but midnight movie fans have certainly seen worse than Christopher Denham’s Preservation, which screens during the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

For reasons that escape us, Mike Neary has organized a nostalgic hunting trip with his neglected (and secretly pregnant) wife Wit and his surly brother Sean, who has just been discharged from the military under mysterious circumstances. He seems a little tense. His disposition will not improve when their gear is stolen. Wisely, brother Mike chose an abandoned state park for sentimental reasons, so with their cell phones gone, the three will be totally on their own.

Frankly, the first two acts rather try a viewers’ patience. Here is a survival tip: if a gang of psycho hunters are stalking you, give them that extra whack if you ever get the drop on one of them. Instead, the Nearys are constantly letting them pop back up, with dire consequences.

However, when the hunted finally becomes the proper hunter, Preservation starts to deliver the sort of sleazy vicarious payback we went in looking for. For a good portion of the film, the hunters have no villainous personality because of the admittedly creepy masks they wear. Yet, when we finally come to understand who they are, it is rather unsettling, offering an unexpected commentary on our increasingly desensitized nature.

Wrenn Schmidt is pretty convincing as the reluctant action heroine, while Pablo Schreiber (Liev’s half-brother) nicely skirts the line between intense and kind of crazy as Sean Neary. In contrast, Aaron Staton seems rather pale vanilla in comparison.

Preservation is mostly just standard issue survivalist fare, but it looks like Hitchcock’s Vertigo compared to the thematically similar Black Rock. Scattering a few laughs amid the bloodshed, Preservation only occasionally raises the exploitation bar above the genre minimum. If that’s good enough for you, it screens again this Friday (4/25) during the Tribeca Film Festival.