Next up on our little field trip trough the wilds of Netflix’s current horror offerings we come to 2014’s Preservation, a movie that I’d heard decidedly mixed things about, but that I decided to take a flier on anyway simply because I figured “hey, it played the Tribeca film festival, so how bad can it be, right?”
Cue the one answer to that question you can see coming from a mile off : “pretty goddamn bad, as it turns out.”
Filmed just outside Los Angeles on a budget reported to be “low,” writer/director Christopher Denham’s thoroughly predictable “city slickers can’t cut it in the wilderness” non-thriller serves up three immediately unlikable characters in the form of secretly pregnant anesthesiologist Wit (played by Wrenn Schmidt), her workaholic, high-finance hot-shot husband, Mike (Aaron Stanton), and his PTSD-afflicted Afghan war vet older brother, Sean (Pablo Schreiber), who are headed out for a purportedly relaxing weekend in the sticks but wake up after their first morning of “roughing it” to find big black Xs painted on their foreheads and all of their shit gone. Seriously, the mysterious interlopers even made off with Sean’s German Shepherd.
What follows next is possibly the least interesting take on hunting “the world’s most dangerous game” ever devised, as the hopelessly incompetent and overmatched suburbanites (or maybe they’re urbanites, who knows and who cares?) find their non-existent survival skills put to the test by a trio of masked teenagers (portrayed by Cody “don’t ask me how the fuck you pronounce his last name” Saintgnue, Micheal Chacon, and Nick Saso) who, in true “mountain man” fashion, communicate with each other solely by text message. Our triumvirate of leads, all of whom have reasonably extensive backgrounds in television, do their best with some decidedly weak material, but honestly, there’s only so much any performer can do to elevate lines like “you killed my dog, now I’m going to kill you.”
Whoops. Just “spoiled” about the only tiny item of suspense the movie has to offer right there. Sorry about that.
I appreciate the fact that Denham is trying his level best to be at least semi-topical here in tackling issues related to the readjustment struggles of soldiers returning from the Middle East and the rudderless, amoral nature of children left to raise themselves in our hyper-capitalist, increasingly atomized society, but the sad truth is that his “level best” is just nowhere near good enough. Givin’ it the old college try is admirable and all that, but when you come up as short of the mark as Preservation does, there’s no such thing as an ” A for effort” — or even a C. This is, simply put, a bad movie any way you slice it.
And yet — it’s not bad enough to earn the distinction of “so bad it’s good,” either. Denham thinks he’s making a real horror film here and that’s probably his biggest mistake. Once we learn that our mystery assailants are a bunch of snot-nosed youths, the opportunity was there to play this whole thing for the laughs it so richly deserves, but our resident auteur has neither the vision nor the guts to go in that direction, so what we’re left with instead is a depressingly by-the-numbers affair that seems to know which points it needs to hit at every step along the way, but manages to miss them all just the same.
There are no doubt many worse horror films than Preservation cluttering up the paper-thin horror selection on Netflix right now, but I doubt there are any less inspired and less involving. This is rote, formulaic movie-making at its most cynical and least imaginative. Definitely one to avoid at all costs.