I came to this film knowing only very minor details – it was titled Salvage, it was British and it had ‘Raymondo’ (Dean Andrews) in it. I assumed that it was a comedy-thriller about the looting of those washed-ashore containers a few years back in Dorset. How wrong I was.

To be honest, I’m so impressed with this film that I’m tempted not to review anything at all, to allow you – the reader – to go into the piece with no prior knowledge. But the editor probably wouldn’t like that, so I’ll do my best to avoid giving anything away, though I will say something from the off: watch this film!

It’s Christmas Eve, and teenager Jodie (Linzey Cocker) is being driven by dad Clive (Dean Andrews, in what’s little more than an extended cameo) to stay with estranged mum Beth (Neve McIntosh) for the holiday. Jodie doesn’t want to go, since Beth apparently abandoned the family (in pursuit of her career, we later discover), but Clive is keen for a reconciliation and drops her off.

Getting into the house, Jodie finds that Beth is upstairs, in the midst of a one-night-stand with Kieran (Shaun Dooley) and runs away. Going across to a neighbour’s house, to find her angry daughter, Beth witnesses her Hindi neighbour, Mr Sharma (Shahid Ahmed) getting shot by Special Forces officers and then she and her fellow residents are told to stay inside, to lock the doors and windows and to not leave the house whatever happens.

This plays on a lot of modern-day fears and does so brilliantly well. With a superb piece of misdirection (could this be a UK-based version of The Crazies?), the viewer goes from thinking Mr Sharma was involved in a suicide-bomber-plot, to the fact that there’s some kind of dirty-bomb (we hear news coverage of a container that’s been washed up on a local beach, where some kind of incident has happened resulting in three deaths). But it’s not anything like that and I wish I could say more, but it really will spoil everything.

With a low budget (apparently just £250k – the film was made on the old Brookside Close set and funded as part of a celebration of Liverpool being ‘capital of culture’), this takes full advantage of that and lets the claustrophobia of the situation really settle over the characters and viewers. Shot on DV with plenty of colour-work, the camera never settles enough to let the viewer get comfortable and, for that reason alone, the slight running time is quite a relief.

The film is paced well – at the start, it’s a modern-day-drama, chats and driving and pregnant pauses, then once the problems begin, it takes off and never really stops. There is one moment, when Beth and Kieran talk about their real lives and have to accept the lies they’ve readily told for the chance of sex, that does slow things slightly, but it helps to humanise the people, so it’s important.

The final third, as night falls and things really get out of control, push ahead at dizzying speed and this is probably the most intense, frightening 20 minutes I’ve seen in quite some time – my wife had her hands over her eyes, I was sitting on the edge of my seat.

The direction is good and assured and the camerawork helps with that a lot, keeping the action clear in the frame but moving with great fluidity. The effects work (a lot of the violence occurs off-screen) is very good (apart, perhaps, from one mask that is glimpsed only briefly), the scares are nicely done and the humdrum setting and production design ground it all perfectly. The acting is equally good, from the brave performance of Neve McIntosh, right down to Dean Andrews (who doesn’t get a lot to do) and the performances help sell everything that you see – and the expression of fear and rage on Linzey Cocker’s face at the end is stunning.

Bleak, intense, genuinely frightening and unsettling, this is a superbly made piece of British horror cinema – it might not be the most original idea ever, but it’s told with guts and style and not a little grit that make it really stand out head and shoulders from the pack. The sad thing is, with the budget, origins and backing of Salvage, it might not reach the audience for which it most definitely will appeal.