And so our look at the restless dead comes to a close for this year. But we have one more entry to give. One that looks how in the face of such horrors man will rather look to its own hatreds than face was is really out there.
For those of you who have kept with me this whole month you may remember my entry in Sleepless Nights about not liking zombie fiction or found footage works ( Sleepless Nights: Dead Men Walking) So, this entry to some may seem a double hypocrisy, for not only have I devoted an entire month to zombie media, I’m ending it with one that seems to be a found footage entry. But you are wrong, this is a mockumentary not found footage. A mockumentary is a film designed to look and emulate a documentary rather than a found footage which is presented as a first-hand account through films taken by the people involved that SOMEHOW got into the hands of the media (yeah, no idea how Apollo 18 happened either).
Savageland is a mockumentary about the massacre of a small town near the border of Mexico in Arizona. The entire population of 57 was killed except for 1 man Francisco Salazar who is an illegal immigrant and a bit of a loner. He was found covered in blood and the authorities pin the deaths on him. The first section of the mockumentary shows clear racial bias as we hear people talking about him and Mexico in general from racist viewpoints by authorities involved in his arrest. This is further shown as the more we get into the events of the night of the massacre it becomes painfully clear he couldn’t have done what they say he did even without the evidence we get later. Further stressing this is the radio presenter who is a right wing evangelical type who misrepresents Mexican beliefs and celebrations like the Day of the Dead as a celebration of death and violence.
This section makes it clear how the authorities intentionally reinterpreted any characteristics of Salazar to fit their already decided upon conclusion such as framing his obsession with photography as some perverted act despite having a war photographer view his work and finding them very skilled plus testimony from his sister in Mexico explaining his love of the field as a connection to his mother. Meanwhile we hear testimonies from people like a border guard about finding things that are not explainable to him as well as moments where Salazar did talk commenting on things like “they can’t get me in here” and psychiatrists describing his current state to be akin to someone who had been through a warzone. All building to a tense reveal of the second main act.
It is in this second act that, through an earlier interview with Salazar that the Court forbids it from being used plus the discovery of the photos, the events of the massacre are shown in their true horror. After being attacked by a friend who had just died in his house from wounds and had to kill him, we get our first photo showing a large group of figures moving in unusual and somewhat chilling manner coming over the hills. We never see proper footage of the figures just the images from Salazar’s camera showing them in almost a demonic horror compared to his normally clear photos of the past. Through this point you get the full absurdity of the charges and claims put against Salazar even without the images of shambling horrors and how lots of evidence that brought to question the prosecutions claims were just thrown out.
Sadly we do learn that the courts and prosecutors doubled down on their explanation and dismissed the photos as forgeries most likely to prevent any claim of wrongful arrest and backlash against themselves, so Salazar is put to death.
The film ends with talk that the story isn’t over just because Salazar died. That the photos tell a story, and numbers, and that they are heading north.
This film gets one of the key elements to zombie fiction, that it’s not the zombies that are the important part. Good zombie fiction is about people and often showing how it’s not the zombies that are the scariest part. The vile vitriol from people chanting they wanted this man dead on no true evidence, and how they were so sure of their own explanation they disregarded and withheld evidence that proved them wrong. That in itself is in some ways more chilling than the nightmarish hordes we see in the photos. Though both images will be sure to haunt you long after you have seen the film since the zombies are only ever really shown in the photos, they don’t seem to be running.