Thursday, January 28, 2021

Savage State: A French Western

Technically, England stayed neutral during the American Civil War, but they were super interested, as we know from The Education of Henry Adams. France also remained on the sidelines, but the government was even more divided over it. Nevertheless, French subjects living in the U.S. were instructed to stay scrupulously neutral as well. Right, good luck with that. Not surprisingly, an expatriate French family decides to return their homeland after getting a taste of reconstruction in David Perrault’s Savage State, which releases tomorrow on VOD.

Hired gun Victor Ludd was supposed to protect de Lisle, but rather awkwardly, his client died due to his trickery. Yet, de Lisle’s business partner still hires him to escort his family from Missouri to the east coast, where they can book passage back to France. They claimed to be neutral and even paid wages to their housemaid Layla. However, their first experience with General Order 28 convinces the parents to make the arduous journey back to France.

It will be a rough journey, especially because of the three sisters thinly disguised sexual attraction to Ludd. Their shrewish mother’s long simmering resentment of their father distinctly Antebellum closeness with Layla also threatens to boil over. However, the biggest threat they face comes from the gang of outlaws stalking them. It is personal for Bettie, their sociopathic leader, who also happens to be a former lover spurned by Ludd. It is safe to say she has yet to move on emotionally.

Kate Moran’s delirious scenery-chewing “fatal attraction” is far and away the best thing about
Savage State, by a wide country mile.  She makes Bettie one of the best western movie heavies in years. Frankly, her gang is also pretty creepy, thanks to their authentic-style burlap bag masks, which make them look a lot like the slashers from The Town that Dreaded Sundown. The problem is the French family and their psycho-sexual tensions are drearily tiresome.

Kevin Janssens makes a credible western anti-hero in the tradition of Tony Anthony and other spaghetti western stars, but Moran just overshadows him and everyone else. Unfortunately, it is no contest for the bland French Vanilla family.

Cinematographer Christophe Duchange gives the film a suitably epic scope thanks to his sweeping vistas and desolate landscapes. It looks great but Perrault’s pacing is often problematically sluggish. Viewers too often feel like they are trudging through mountain passes along with expats. There are a handful of really striking scenes, but not enough to recommend
Savage State when it releases tomorrow (1/29) on VOD.