This relentless genre mashup is a real pan-African treat. A western/ horror collision with stylistic shades of Tarantino and early Guy Ritchie, there’s so much going on in its chaotic runtime that it’s easy to miss the signposts of a rich mythos that is only ever implied. Saloum is an achingly cool calling card for the kind of sophisticated action cinema for which western Africa isn’t as yet particularly renowned.

In 2003, a trio of mercenaries called the Bangui Hyenas extract a drug dealer during the carnage of the Guinea-Bissau coup d’état. The aim is to fly their quarry back to Dakar, Senegal, yet fate intervenes and their light aircraft is forced to make a crash landing some way short of their target. The find themselves in a kibbutz-like resort on the Sine-Saloum Delta. The genial Omar (Bruno Henry) is delighted to welcome anyone to stay as long as they join in the communal activities. But there’s something in Omar that seems to be troubling Chaka (Yann Gael), the leader of the Hyenas. Once it comes to the surface, all kinds of metaphorical and literal demons come to the surface.

Saloum excels in the depiction of its motley band of antihero brothers. Gael is a charismatic prospect as Chaka, with the hulking, unpredictable Rafa (Roger Sallah), and the wiry, vaguely mystical Minuit (Mentor Ba) completing the memorable trio. Their backstory is practically non-existent, yet you feel the weight of time and comradeship through the brief sketches director Jean Luc Herbulot provides. It brings to mind how Neil Marshall managed to deftly establish his protagonists so well in his early classics Dog Soldiers and The Descent. Add the formidable Awa (Evelyne Ily Juhen), a non-verbal deaf woman, whose hands are used for a lot more than communication, and there’s a strong base of characterisation underneath the stylistic surface.

An act of revenge turns everything sideways in an unexpected way, throwing the normal language of the action film – vengeance as an end in itself – out the window. Crucially, it’s a crack in the mercenaries’ code of honour that triggers the events; those who slay together stay together. Saloum becomes even more frenetic, although some inconsistent internal logic comes to the fore as it takes a swift dart into Pitch Black territory and it appears that guns and arrows can take on swirling packs of ethereal hell spawn. There’s nothing wrong with the huge lurch towards the supernatural in and of itself, but the atmosphere was a grounded and believable one – presumably the reason for the Guinea-Bissau coup d’état setting – yet to jettison plausible physics entirely seems an odd decision.

Nevertheless, this is a vibrant, tense, and stylistically ingenious hybrid from a very assured and exciting filmmaker.

Screened as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival