A masked, naked, clay-covered band of jungle primitives are disturbed in the middle of a human sacrifice by the sudden intrusion of a croquet ball. Led by their high priestess, they trek through the forest in search of its origins and arrive at an immense, deserted manor house. They occupy the mansion, which begins to have a civilizing effect on the savages; individual personalities emerge, and with them, pasts, futures, family connections, ambitions, and other trappings of society. Over the course of a weekend get-together, the savages soon become grand socialites, in fine clothes, who give elaborate dinner parties, where the talk is of world politics, art, and the fascinations of anthropology. But then their civilization begins to fall apart; the savages' manners and morals deteriorate and they even lose the habit of speech. By Monday dawn they have shed their clothes and we last see them retreating into the forest and their Stone Age lives.
The first American film from Merchant Ivory Productions is also their most uncommon and most unexpected, especially for audiences only familiar with their Indian films or their period films set in Europe or America. A fascinating meditation on the rise and fall of civilizations, with a witty screenplay by George Swift Trow and Michael O'Donoghue, Savages is filmed in an improvisatory, experimental style and merges a series of tragiccomic tableaux with pseudo-scholarly documentary narration and title cards. The result is a dark, biting satire that will turn viewer expectations upside-down.