Fantastic Fest Review: ‘Saloum’ is a wild, genre-twisting ride from start to finish

A trio of inseparable brothers in arms, one with second sight, one with a temper, and one with a hidden past, get stranded in an unfamiliar place. An effective setup for any film, but Saloum adds folklore and the unspeakable atrocities of Africa’s recent past to the mix to make something unique.

We meet the three mercenaries –Chaka (Yann Gael, the brains), Rafa (Roger Sallah, the muscle), and Minuit (Mentor Ba, the mystic)– mid-mission as they make their through a military coup in Guinea-Bissau to extract a high paying client. They almost make a clean getaway, but damage to their plane requires them to land in the Sine-Saloum delta region of Senegal, a place that Chaka seems to have some past connection to.

There, they meet a whole cast of characters, including a kindly older man who runs the camp they stay at, Omar (Bruno Henry), the local chief of police (Ndiaga Mbow), and a deaf-mute woman called Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen) who is the only one who immediately knows who they are.

Yann Gael, Mentor Ba, and Roger Sallah in Saloum

It would be a shame to tell you much more about what happens next, as the twists and turns that both the story and the genre take are fun and a little unpredictable. The whole production has a certain scrappy feel, and the filmmakers have clearly seen a few movies themselves, many of which they pay homage to. One of the film’s best moments comes early in the mercenaries stay at the camp. Chaka has a whole conversation in sign language with Awa, complete with threats of violence and a huge grin on his face to hide his intentions from the rest of the people around the table. Gael really sells Chaka’s inner conflict; it’s no coincidence that they end up at the camp they end up at, and the backstory slowly revealed there is tragic and heartbreaking.

But just as quickly as this film goes from heist to slow-burn tension-filled thriller to bloody revenge tale, it takes a sharp left into something more supernatural. There are monsters in the camp, but there are literal monsters made up of mud, leaves, bugs, and horns, running around outside, too.

Even saying that much betrays maybe too much of the ride you’re going to have while watching this film, but almost everything about this movie is fun. The main trio is excellent, giving us rich, three-dimensional characters with real chemistry and a shared backstory you can feel even though only parts of it are hinted at, and some fun monster action (in broad daylight, no less!) through the third act that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Saloum is played as part of Fantastic Fest 2021, the 2021 Vancouver International Film Festival, and the 2021 Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema

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