Cast: Noe Montes, Lawrence Ross, J.C. Carlos, George Savage
The Josh Chop: If I could say one thing about Savageland it would be that it was a damn creepy documentary. As I watched it late into the night with most of the lights off, I’ve gotta say it was pretty eerie. A documentary style film made into horror film with the use of graphic images and ghostly horror sounds, this film stands out from other horror films that you’ve seen before. The needle is high on the creep-o-meter for this one.
The third largest mass murder in America! This film is set in the small Arizona border town of Sangre de Cristo. On June 2, 2011 an entire town is wiped out in murder. Most of the bodies are dismembered and so disfigured that it’s almost impossible to discover which body part belongs to whom. The only remaining citizen of the town and the prime suspect is Francisco Salazar (Montes), who was detained after he was caught trying to cross the border into Mexico. When arrested, Salazar was covered in the blood of over 15 different victims and in a raving state. Trouble is, he says he didn’t do it. Even more strange is the fact that this story never got national attention.
Sangre de Cristo quickly referred to as SDC is like most border towns in Arizona. From the drug cartel, to human trafficking, to everyday crime, people just go missing in these border towns. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for someone to go missing in this town too. But for a whole town of 57 people to vanish overnight, it’s horrific. The film’s focus on racism towards Mexicans is shown in true documentary style. Interviews with locals, sheriffs, policemen, and radio personas. Each with their own stereotypical opinion about living near the border and the assumption that Mexicans just commit crime. That’s what they do.
Nothing is different for Salazar. When he is found, it is almost impossible for anyone interviewed about the event to even consider that it wasn’t him. Men, women, and children were brutally murdered. The case moves quickly and the state puts Salazar to trial. He never says a single word during the whole process and is ultimately sentenced to death by lethal injection. Most people are happy to see him die and let him burn in hell. Very few are suspicious that one man could commit such carnage by himself in just one night.
Lawrence Ross (real author and writer) and Carlos Olivares (Carlos) are one of the few who believe he may have been telling the truth about what actually happened that night. It is revealed that Salazar had one recorded interview after he was arrested. The interview is dissected by Ross while Olivares explains what he must have meant. As the events of the night unfold to us, it is revealed that Salazar had taken photos during the night of the murders.
One by one, the photos tell a story of who Salazar encountered that night and each photo is more and more disturbing and ghoulish. The photos are edited together in order of the events of that night along with the interview with Salazar. It’s unclear what happened that night just from the photos and even from the interview. As it’s pieced together it might give us an idea that Salazar saw more than we could even comprehend that night. A truly terrifying night.
Savageland does a great job in blending documentary style film (found footage, pictures, interviews, experts, etc.) with the standard horror film style of blood, graphic photos and the unknown that creeps in the shadows. It’s taken a night for it to settle in and make me realize that I really enjoyed this one. It kept me curious and really felt like I was watching a documentary that was based in reality.
Savageland brings it all together by use of truly interesting interviews from real people and really creepy sound effects and music. In fact I would say the sound effects and music are what made this film into a horror film. Paired with the graphic bizarre story line, this film feels like you’ve just watched a warning video. A warning that it’s coming.
I’ve seen other documentaries about homicides and murder that didn’t make me feel like I did after watching Savageland. This film will make you not want to go outside at night after you’ve seen it. You’ve been warned.