“Saloum” follows the legendary mercenaries known as the Bangui Hyenas—Chaka (Yann Gael), Rafa (Roger Sallah), and Minuit (Mentor Ba)—who are fleeing from a coup in Guinea-Bissau with the drug lord Felix (Renaud Farah) and a briefcase full of gold. On their way to Dakar, their plane starts to lose fuel as someone has apparently knifed its tank. This forces them to make an emergency landing in Saloum and stash the gold under a tree. Chaka says that he knows a place in Sine-Saloum where they can lay low and find resin and fuel to get the plane going again. If they don’t, they can use the gold to buy a new plane. They reach the Baobab Camp, which is run by a man named Omar (Bruno Henry) and his employee Salamane (Babacar Oualy). And when Chaka recognizes Omar, it becomes clear that this isn’t a simple heist film.
Chaka Reveals That Omar Is The Brutal Colonel Remington
Throughout the first two acts of the film, we get brief glimpses of a child in rags running away from a man in combat clothing and then walking into a body of water while holding a chain in one hand and a gun in the other. It becomes clear that that child is, in fact, Chaka when the movie cuts from the child getting nabbed to Chaka waking up in the holiday camp. Given how Chaka says that he knows Omar from a long time ago, he is clearly insinuating that he is from that place or that Omar was a prominent figure during his childhood days. In addition to that, Minuit constantly keeps saying that Chaka is hiding something from him and Rafa, and that he is preparing for something big. But all this speculation is put on hold as the movie chooses to focus on Omar’s immense generosity.
After a whole day of doing charity for the villagers on Omar’s behalf (that’s how one pays to stay in Omar’s holiday camp), the trio returns to the dinner table and joins everyone to chat about what they’ve done all day. Chaka interrupts this by talking about a missing shack behind the dining room. He says it was made of irregular sheet metal and looked like a cattle crate. He starts reminiscing about how different Sine-Saloum used to look and how he had to run away from it all. To be specific, he had to run away from Omar because, for weeks, he had defiled him under the guise of giving him safety and protection. He says that back then, he was known as Colonel Remington because he carried a Remington gun and branded the child soldiers working for him with the letter “R” on their fists. And that’s when Omar/Remington recognizes him as Chaka.
Chaka gloriously shoots down Omar. Souleymane (Ndiaga Mbow) – one of the guests at the camp who is a police officer and has been planning to nab the Bangui Hyenas – tries to call in the two units that he has stationed near the camp. But Chaka reveals that he has paid them off with the gold bricks he had in his bag. So, they aren’t coming to help him. Rafa realizes that their emergency landing in Saloum was a part of Chaka’s plan. He is the one who knifed the fuel tank. Now, why didn’t Chaka just come clean to his teammates and let them in on the plan from the get-go? Well, according to him, they wouldn’t have allowed him to take a revenge-fueled detour and would’ve prioritized the gold and delivering the drug lord. And they would’ve been right, since now they don’t have any gold to buy a new plane, and they have an unseen evil after them.
See More: ‘Saloum’ Review: A Seamless Blend Of A Hitchcockian Thriller & A Gunslinging Actioner With A Hint Of Horror
Salamane Explains Omar’s Deal With The Devil
This is the point where director Jean-Luc Herbulot turns everything that you know about “Saloum” on its head. Moments after Chaka shoots Omar down, a black, sentient, formless cloud starts to circle the camp. The setting changes from night to day within the blink of an eye. And before anyone can make head or tail of this clearly supernatural phenomenon, Felix arrives, running and writhing in pain. He begins to vomit blood, and the blood vessels under his skin start to blacken. After a few seconds of struggle, he breathes his last and dies in Rafa’s arms. Chaka holds Salamane hostage and tells Rafa to lead everyone into the hut Awa is in. Minuit points out that there are no injury marks on Felix’s body. But he apparently smells of sulfur. Chaka assumes that it’s witchcraft. However, Minuit says that a human being couldn’t have done something like this.
As soon as Minuit utters those words, Salamane starts to ramble that spirits can’t enter the cabins because of the artificial light and the magnetic waves. He goes on to say that Omar was “their” guardian and that killing him had broken the barrier between “them” and the humans. So now “they” are going to kill them one by one. Chaka suggests that they gather their weapons and go to the shed. Salamane says that man-made weapons, “grigris” (talismans, basically), and initiations won’t do them any good since Chaka has killed “their” ferryman. He says that the spirits of the Bainouk people are older and stronger than Chaka and his people’s Bwitis. What do Bainouk and Bwiti mean? The Bainouks are believed to be the first inhabitants of the lower Casamance. Bwiti is a spiritual discipline practiced by the forest-dwelling peoples of Gabon and Cameroon to promote spiritual growth, and stability in their community and families, and to resolve pathological problems.
Chaka says that the Bainouks disappeared from Sine-Saloum hundreds of years ago. Salamane says that Gana Sira Bana never left, thereby referring to the curse of Sira Bana. He says that he still reigns over Sine-Saloum. Souleymane counters this claim by saying that the Sereres dominate the Saloum while the Bainouks reside in Casamance. Chaka explains that the Bainouks were in Saloum before the Sereres. Some of them sold their land to see their king (Gana Sira Bana) fall. The king promised to curse the earth and let it die. Salamane says that only a handful of Diolas (an ethnic group found in Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau) have been allowed to stay there to serve as King Bainouk’s servants. Minuit asks him about the severed ears of the villagers. Salamane says that it’s to prevent them from hearing the spirits of Sira Bana. Otherwise, they’ll rot from the inside out, just like Felix.
Salamane explains that Omar made a pact with the spirits to make Saloum accessible again. Chaka asks him if there’s a way to fight these spirits. Salamane says that there isn’t any. They can only run until they are captured by them. Chaka realizes that the first order of business is to protect themselves from Sira Bana’s murmurings. He starts gathering Minuit’s walkman, headphones, and noise-canceling earmuffs with Awa by his side. When Awa gets attacked by something that resembles the spirits but has a physical form, it becomes clear that Sira Bana has started to possess the Diolas. And it is using them to remove any kind of ear protection that the people in the camp are wearing. That said, Chaka makes a good point. He says that as these spirits have a physical form now, they can be killed. However, they’ll need more weapons to do so, and since Salamane is the only one who knows where they are, he’s going to lead them to it.
‘Saloum’ Ending Explained: Why Does Chaka Get Dragged Into The Sine-Saloum Delta?
Here’s how the group is divided. Chaka, Rafa, Salamane, and Souleymane take the quad bikes to go to the village and get the weapons, the resin, and the fuel. Awa and Minuit hang back with Sephora (Marielle Salmier) and Younce (Cannabasse) and get those boats ready that’ll take them through the river to Ndangane (from where they’ll have to walk to the plane). Salamane successfully leads them to the fuel. But after getting there, Chaka hears something calling out to him. He takes Souleymane with him to find its origin. He comes across a tree with all kinds of ritualistic materials around it, and the spirits circling it like a magnet. Then he proceeds to a hut with the “R” that Chaka is branded with written on its wall. We briefly cut back to the camp to see Minuit going to save Sephora and Younce, and then we return to Chaka and Souleymane entering the locked hut.
What they find in there is much more horrifying than any of the revelations so far. To put it bluntly, Omar was keeping the children (who are branded like Chaka) of the village hostage and periodically using them as currency to deal with Sira Bana. Chaka asks Salamane what Omar was doing all this for, because this doesn’t feel like a simple “agreement with the devil” in order to maintain Saloum’s tourism business. Salamane says that Omar found the “entity.” Chaka asks him what that means, but Salamane throws some dirt into his eyes and runs away with one of the quads. Chaka, Rafa, and Souleymane start to make their way back to the camp. Souleymane gets killed by the spirits. So, Chaka and Rafa take the remaining quad bike and commence their return journey. They notice that the liberated kids have captured Salamane and exposed him to the spirits of Sira Bana.
Back at the camp, Younce gets infected and dies. Awa finds Sephora at the banks of the river, and she dies in her arms. Chaka and Rafa arrive only to realize that Minuit has entered some kind of trance to hold the spirits back. Chaka and Rafa are forced to kill him so that the spirits stay attached to him and don’t go after them as they escape through the river. After that, Chaka, Rafa, and Awa get into the boat and start paddling away to Ndangane. But Omar’s undead corpse emerges from the water and tries to drag Rafa into the river. He says, “You came to take his place. Your soul is heavy now. You are ready. I’m taking you with me.” Chaka tries to shoot the zombified Omar back into the river. Instead, he slips and falls in. Awa and Rafa try to bring him back. However, Omar drowns Chaka and kills him.
In the prologue, the narrator (Alvina Karamoko) says that revenge is like a river and that our actions are the dugouts that are guided by the current; and its depth can only be perceived by drowning in it. We see the spirits of Sira Bana passing over Rafa and Awa without touching them. The colors of Saloum get restored, thereby hinting that the curse of Sira Bana has been lifted. You can also say that this was no curse, to begin with, but a personification of the toxic and tragic link between Chaka and Omar. We’ve seen in a ton of Japanese horror films where a person’s negative feelings or a grudge become so vitriolic that it takes a metaphysical form and starts killing or possessing people. Maybe the curse on Saloum was a result of Omar’s crimes and Chaka’s determination to kill him. And it came to an end when both of them died in the very place that defines Sine-Saloum, i.e., the river.
“Saloum” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Jean Luc Herbulot.