Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
Saloum was a last-minute addition to my October Horror Movie Challenge roster this year. When I saw that Shudder had added a horror film from Senegal, I knew it had to go on the list. While I’ve read that there are growing horror movie industries across the continent, especially in Nigeria and South Africa, the only horror film I can remember seeing from anywhere in Africa is Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil. Between Saloum and Good Madam, which I have on my roster in a few days, I hope I can start catching up on some of what I’ve been missing.
Saloum is currently streaming on Shudder in the UK.
In the midst of the 2003 coup in Guinea-Bissau, a small group of elite mercenaries known as the Bangui Hyenas are hired to get a Mexican cartel member to safety. They successfully flee on a small private aeroplane, but discover it is leaking fuel from a bullet hole. With reserves running low, the team are forced to land in the Saloum region of Senegal.
Searching for fuel and resin to repair the damaged fuel tank, the Hyenas come across a holiday resort on the coast. They are welcomed and drawn into the lives of the eccentric staff and residents. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that the area has a dark history, rooted in both human evil and something a little more supernatural.
Will our mercenaries survive the escalating threats they uncover? What is the source of the weird insect swarms that are killing the guests. And was the Hyenas’ arrive at the resort really an accident?
Saloum reminds me a little of From Dusk till Dawn. It starts off as an action film, with mercenaries on the run. Everything switches around the halfway point, however, as demons appear. Even so, it never quite stops being an action film. While Saloum is survival horror, the protagonists are competent and well-armed. The escalation feels more pulpy than frightening. Sadly, this is sometimes undermined by shaky camera work and rough editing, making it difficult to follow the action at key points.
It strikes me that Saloum feels like a modern sword-and-sorcery tale. Our protagonists are morally ambiguous warriors, fighting for survival, personal gain and revenge. One is even a shaman of sorts, wielding potions and powders that almost seem magical. While the protagonists are faced with eldritch forces, their combat skills are their salvation. The only difference lies in that they use hot lead rather than cold steel.
The monsters themselves are intriguing and nasty. They appear as humanoid locust swarms, rendered in convincing CGI that must have devoured a large part of the film’s budget. They are more sinister than mere ravening swarms, however. We learn that they destroy their victims’ senses, eating away from the inside. The only protection is not to hear their whispers in the first place, leading to some classic horror movie schemes in which the protagonists try to block out the sound.
As with Luz: The Flower of Evil, Saloum owes much to its beautiful locations. The huge, empty landscapes lend the film a sense of awe. At times, the aerial camera work feels a bit overdone, however. I suspect that the producers splashed out serious money on camera drones and wanted to see that budget on the screen.
Even after spending some time thinking about it, I still don’t know what to make of Saloum. It’s a lively film with striking visuals and some genuinely odd moments. At the same time, I found it difficult to connect with emotionally. When the action kicks off, the pace becomes frenetic and there are a lot of characters to keep track of. I wanted to feel more invested in individual fates, especially as some of them had fascinating backstories, but I always felt like I was skimming along the surface. While there is a powerful, if not exactly unique, parable about the futility of revenge in here somewhere, it gets diluted by all the chaos.
Maybe some of the distance I felt was unfamiliarity with the Bainuk folklore Saloum draws upon. There are numerous mentions of gods, entities and even people I assume the original audience would recognise. While I could pick up much of what I needed from context, I still felt like I was missing a few key pieces. I find myself wanting to read up on the folklore and history of the region and watch the film again to see if I get more out of it.
These quibbles aside, Saloum is a fast-paced, action-packed film set against stunning landscapes, filled with monsters, intrigue and unusual characters. I only suspect that there’s an even better film hiding under its surface.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Werewolves Within (USA, 2021)
- Crystal Eyes (Argentina, 2018)
- Super Dark Times (USA, 2017)
- Thirst (Australia, 1979)
- A Ghost Waits (USA, 2020)
- Cemetery of Terror (Mexico, 1985)
- I Came By (UK, 2022)
- 100 Monsters (Japan, 1968)
- Sea Fever (Ireland, 2020)
- Mill of the Stone Women (Italy, 1960)
- Glorious (USA, 2022)
- All the Moons (Spain, 2021)
- Broadcast Signal Intrusion (USA, 2021)
- Incantation (Taiwan, 2022)
- The Gore Gore Girls (USA, 1972)
- Luz: The Flower of Evil (Colombia, 2019)
- Butterfly Kisses (USA, 2018)
- The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (Italy, 1971)
- Saloum (Senegal, 2021)
- The Addiction (USA, 1995)
- Good Madam (South Africa, 2021)
- The Freakmaker/The Mutations (UK, 1974)
- The Long Walk (Laos, 2019)
- Errors of the Human Body (Germany, 2013)
- Eyes of Fire (USA, 1983)
- Caveat (Ireland, 2020)
- The White Reindeer (Finland, 1952)
- His House (UK, 2020)
- Tourist Trap (USA, 1979)
- Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Sweden, 1922)
- Flux Gourmet (UK, 2022)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Night House
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!