Cinematic Releases: How To Save Us - Guaranteed Spoiler Free Review

The Movie Sleuth had a chance to sneak an early peek at Jason Trost's latest effort, How To Save Us.

"If only Dora were here, she
could help me read this map!"
Director Jason Trost is mostly known for his ridiculous and completely enjoyable cult film The FP, which resonated with audiences with an affinity for satire and gaming references. He delved into nerd pop-culture even more with his follow-up film, All Superheroes Must Die, which was his version of a comic book flick. In How to Save Us, Trost takes a more sparse and minimalist approach to filmmaking, and in doing so, produces a reflective and poignant piece of work.

The film is a tale of lost siblings and mysterious ghosts, as we follow Brian (Jason Trost) in his search for his missing brother Sam (Coy Jandreau) on the lush island of Tasmania. The location of the film is perfect for setting the somber mood of the film and the island ends up being a character in itself. The cinematography is outstanding with sweeping wide shots showcasing the beautiful vistas. There are many scenes where the focus is on Brian traversing the topography and exploring abandoned houses and campsites. It does slow down the pace of the film but at the same time it really drives home the feeling of dread and isolation.

What really stood out to me while watching How to Save Us was the subtle video game references. There are hints of Silent Hill, The Last of Us, Fatal Frame and Myst, just to name a few. Brian even wears a Power Glove (it’s so bad) during his travels! It’s obvious that Trost is a huge fan of video games and was greatly inspired by their respective moods and concepts. Of course, one can enjoy the film without being a gamer, but the tiny references add a fun dimension to what could have been a completely cliché ghost story. The ghosts even have 8-bit modulated voices when they talk which sounds neat as hell.

"God damn smokers ruin everything"
One of the issues with this film, however, is over reliance on voice-over exposition. Much of the story is conveyed through radio transmissions, which while a cool idea, does get a bit tiring as the film progresses. I wish the story could have been told through organic means—more showing and less telling, as it were. There is actually a whole lot of interesting mythology to the film that unfortunately gets explained in a rather clunky way. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does make the film seem a bit less smooth flowing. Fortunately, the concepts in the film are interesting enough to keep the audience engaged. The ghosts definitely have some frightening moments --Trost doesn’t rely on jump scares and instead instills a sense of dread.

How to Save Us has a curious musical score comprised of moody ambient sounds combined with old-timey honky-tonk style songs. The characters use radios/music to keep track of where the ghosts are, so in effect, the score is mostly happening in real-time. This adds a weird meta feel to the movie and really ties the entire thing together. Again, gamers might recognize a few of the effects used as some of them sound very familiar.

While this is billed as a horror movie, it’s actually more of a character study with a spectral twist.  It seems to be more personal than Trost’s previous films and is undeniably the most gorgeous of all of his filmography.  Pacing and plot aside, it’s worth a look for fans of his work and ghost story lovers.

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-Michelle Kisner