If Jason Trost had been working in early Hollywood they would’ve called him a triple threat. He’s a writer, director, and actor. It is, however, the twenty-first century, and twenty years from now history might reveal a movement that may have started with the four horseman of the indie apocalypse in the early 90’s (Linklater, Smith, Rodriguez, and Tarantino), the movement of the all-around guy, that smarmy know-it-all genius, who can write, direct, act and edit, or some combination thereof. Trost is not there yet with How to Save Us (2014). This is the first film of his I’ve viewed, but it’s made me very curious about his three other feature length films, All Superheroes Must Die (2011), The FP (2011), and Wet and Reckless (2013). In fact, these films along with How to Save Us could be seen as a list of first-film formula films. Let me explain. There is an ever-changing cycle of filmmaking that is based on a sometimes simple formula of how to get started in film. Let’s shoot in one location equals Cube (1997). Let’s shoot in one location, plus I can do cg myself equals Paranormal Activity (2007). Let’s shoot it like a documentary so we don’t have to worry about the resolution quality equals The Blair Witch Project (1999) and the entire found footage genre. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not demeaning films for using these formulas, I’m championing them. And though I use the word formulaic, I don’t mean it in a negative sense. The earlier films of Trost hint at this formulaic nature, but I would have to watch them to commit to that completely. All Superheroes Must Die reads like “superheroes meet Saw,” Wet and Reckless is reality-show based, and The FP is a post-apocalyptic gang war with dance-offs, so if he dances in it, he might be even more of a threat. So here’s the formula for How to Save Us. Let’s shoot with basically only two characters, plus we can have low budget cg when we look at the monster through a camera, equals How to Save Us. I might also add that they chose the right cameras and the right cinematographer. How to Save Us opens with a prologue being typed—I could swear that’s the 28 Days Later font. The island of Tasmania has been evacuated for what the military calls an outbreak. Eldest brother Brian receives a phone call from his sister Molly begging him to go find their brother Sam and he receives an envelope with a composition notebook from younger brother Sam detailing his travels and discoveries on the island, so Brian heads out to find him. Thirty-eight days earlier we see Sam on the island. He sets his video camera to infrared and witnesses the monster entering his cabin. The monster is a digitized figure, like when your digital cable goes out a little bit, but not really that bad looking, and they balance it out with some good shadow play of the creature. What really solidifies it monsterness is that the computer-gravelly voice is seeking Sam out specifically by name. Those are the essential beats of the first ten minutes. But plenty more happens in that time frame—the sister says she was attacked and has claw marks, she also appears via video right when the “outbreak” occurs, and a radio announcer discusses conspiracy theories concerning the events on the island. There’s a montage scene of Sam heading to Tasmania, and one of Sam on the island. Brian reads Sam’s notebook and we get the monster rules for the story. We get it during the title sequence, so thank you for not having a graphic artist show-and-tell title sequence. These scenes sound mundane but they move pretty fast. Not a bad start in medias res, which in modern vernacular just means some shit already went down. The rest of the film is Brian following Sam’s path and experiencing similar disturbances. They use human ash to form protective circles and to camouflage their bodies. At one point Sam exits his protective circle and gets dragged away by the monster who is invisible at that point. When Sam runs out of ash he digs up a corpse and burns it for ash. Three voices come through the radios: the ghost, a talk show host voice that mocks them, and a warning recording once Brian gets closer to the island of Mariah. They also hear old voicemail recordings of each other from when their parents died, which is not just a dramatic tool, but pretty creepy, cool and original too. A nice horror slash sci-fi bent presents itself in the form of an EMP (electronic media pulse) weapon and a portal to the other world through which Brian must rescue his brother and battle the ghost monster, and I purposefully excluded a lot of revelations, which you might enjoy, especially that weapon which will be a fun surprise. They set up a pretty creepy creature mythology with rules, the suspense rises well throughout its entirety, the imagery of deserted streets creates an ominous mood similar to The Omega Man (1971), Last Man On Earth (1964) but especially in 28 Days Later (2002) when the main character is walking around an abandoned London. I believe 28 Days had some CG help with that, but How to Save Us probably achieved that with early morning shoots. Once he travels through the portal to his eerie museum-esque family home we are presented with some well-planned production design that helps make the revelations there palpable – or in other words, the end is pretty freaking cool. It doesn’t look like it was made on an estimated budget of $20,000. In fact, the cinematography is excellent, if not brilliant. I have a list of why movies suck, and talking heads, a lack of production design, and the smallness of films are on that list. Let me explain. When you’re making a film and you’re thinking of a cheap way to shoot, you invariably come up with a small cast usually trapped somewhere: Night of the Living Dead (1968), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), etc. ad nauseam. This causes your film to feel small, claustrophobic—which is sometimes the effect you want, but not always. My problem with low budget films is that they don’t try to be like big budget films that have sweeping vistas, panoramas, depth of field that goes on for miles or just a long shot that has the entire character in the shot. That’s one area where this film succeeds magnificently. The film opens with Brian on a balcony looking over a cityscape of mostly blues, and there’s another nice shot of Sam kayaking on the beach that looks great. They never miss a chance to get a long shot in, and there are more than a half dozen shots like these. It’s certainly not a perfect film. It’s easy to forget there’s a 38-day difference between Sam and Brian’s stories so that it feels like Brian is right behind Sam. Trost wears a patch in real life and therefore as a character in all his movies, which seriously limits his acting roles to Snake Plissken, Nick Fury and a pirate—I’m sure he’s heard all the jokes. He seems to be pulling it off pretty well, though—the characters, not the patch. Radios experience “ghost radio waves” which play music from an earlier era, all bluegrass, though the caption subtitles claim swing and country. More than likely they’re using public domain music, and it gets a little tedious after a while. Years ago, their parents died in a drunken car crash, one Brian feels he could’ve stopped and one from which none of them seems to have recovered. The one and only ghost monster is their father. After a while, the film just becomes a metaphor for dealing with grief. While Trost and company have set up an interesting monster mythology it slowly deteriorates from this curious metaphor into outright allegory, and it’s hard to read it both ways by the end. The metaphor by the end is tangible, concrete, unwavering, and overbearing. That being said, I still dig this film. The acting, cinematography, locations, mood—I like a lot of it. It’s like a beautiful girl with a booger on her nose. I like it “except for” but the “except for” is hard not to see. Sorry, I’m all out of analogies. Trost and company walk a good path, though. They keep at it. Four films under their collective belt. Their productions and what they accomplish with their low budgets reminds me of the works of Larry Fessenden: Habit (1995), Windigo (2001), The Last Winter (2006). I wish them the best of luck to break that glass ceiling, because whatever they have in the pipeline is certainly going to be more than just watchable, and maybe one day they’ll come up with something really fantastic. See larger image How To Save Us [Blu-ray] Brian Everett’s younger brother Sam goes missing on the island of Tasmania during the middle of a mysterious quarantine forcing Brian to traverse across enemy lines to save his brother from an army of ghosts. When sold by Amazon.com, this product is manufactured on demand using BD-R recordable media. Amazon.com’s standard return policy will apply. New From: $17.49 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses Advance Review: Vampire Season (rough cut) - Psycho Drive-In August 10, 2016 […] a sense of emptiness, in much the same way Cam Clark’s The Stray or Jason Trost’s How to Save Us do, by finding settings that are virtually uninhabited in which to shoot. When you’re […] Log in to Reply All Superheroes Must Die (2011) - Psycho Drive-In August 17, 2016 […] paying close attention this is my second review of a Jason Trost film. I recently reviewed his How to Save Us (2014) and intend next to watch and review the sequel to this one, All Superheroes Must Die 2: The […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.