Toronto Review – Midnight Madness Film ‘Saloum’ – Deadline

Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot and produced by Pamela Diop, Saloum is the Toronto Film Festival’s Midnight Madness selection which premiered this past week. The film weaves together supernatural horror elements with comedy and suspense. All aspects come together to create a unique story about how the cycle of revenge can come back to haunt you.

In 2003, a trio of mercenaries called the Bangui Hyenas are flying to Dakar, Senegal, with millions in gold and a rescued cartel drug lord. Chaka (Yann Gael) is the brains, Rafa (Roger Sallah) is the muscle, and Minuit (Mentor Ba) is the silent but deadly type. In the middle of their flight, there is a sudden hole in the wing, and they must land on the Saloum Delta. Before they begin their walk to civilization, they bury the gold and vow to come back for it.

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They reach a mysterious and isolated Baobab camp deep within the Delta. The establishment is run by Omar (Bruno Henry), and Chaka’s demeanor rapidly changes when they meet the owner. He’s hiding something, and Minuit can sense it. He warns the other two that they should leave, but Chaka wants more time before leaving. They met a mute woman, Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen), who knows more about them than expected and threatens to expose the trio if they don’t take her with them. As tensions rise, Chaka reveals the truth: he’s there to kill the man who turned him into a child soldier–and he will have his vengeance. However, the Island has other plans, and the Hyenas plus Awa have to fight the dark to make it out alive.

At the start of the film, an omniscient voice mentions, “revenge is like a river” The saying foreshadows the entire narrative, and it’s easy to miss. The statement can be interpreted as a ripple effect. This is why all hell breaks loose when Chaka decides to risk his life and those around him in his quest. Saloum exposes its twist at the right time and manages to build enough anticipation throughout. There were unexpected moments of fun and even a few intentional laughs out loud moments that gave the heavy script some balance. The horror component is less confident because it’s tied to the lore that could have benefited from a more robust narrative foundation.

Despite its issues, Saloum has some surprises up its sleeve and is admittedly an enjoyable watch. It moves quickly to the point and emphasizes why sometimes it’s better to let go than to forge a path of chaos and dragging others down with you. Herbulot has a unique perspective that opens him up to a promising future in cinema. He chose a talented ensemble of actors who executed his bold vision with chemistry and charisma.

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