Starring: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere
Director: Stephen Fingleton
Film review by Colin Lomas
As a species, us humans have a curious fondness for grim and gloomy art. From skull tattoos to death metal bands, there is an unrelenting fascination with the macabre and morbid, and films are no exception. It’s surprisingly difficult to recall a genuinely gloomy film which didn’t get inexorable approval. From the true life horrors of Hotel Rwanda and The Elephant Man through to the fictional bleakness of The Road, Nil by Mouth and Tyrannosaur, there is something peculiarly fascinating about watching unrelenting despair and observing the malevolence of humanity on the big screen.
Intentionally set in an undefined year of the near future in an indeterminate part of the world, the human population has grown exponentially to the point of saturation; food is at a premium and from the movie’s sporadic intimations, society has regressed back to packs of hunter/gatherers. The survivalist (as we never learn his true name) has managed to create a small farmstead in the middle of a dense wood just large enough to keep himself self-sufficient. When mother and daughter couple Kathryn (Fouere) and Milja (Goth) appear at his door asking for food and shelter, the survivalist’s controlled unaccompanied existence is threatened as his morals become confused; to keep himself safe or to assist his visitor’s needs.
A sound method to keep costs low when producing a movie is to isolate the action to a restricted area, keep the number of actors limited and construct a simple and focussed story line. The risk with this technique is that the movie becomes more of a theatrical production where each moment becomes intensified and less freedom is given to procrastination. It is unsurprising therefore that the lead character is given to an actor with an education in walking the boards. The film devotes a significant amount of time to building McCann’s character, devoid of dialogue and with extensive intense close ups.
Due to the utter desperation of The Survivalist’s plot, it requires total commitment to its audience and at times starts to meander yet manages to pull itself back every time just before the bleakness becomes tiresome.
There are enough plot and character surprises to keep the movie interesting, the acting is excellent and the limited scope of environment constantly feels claustrophobic but never artistically restrictive. The Survivalist demonstrates the way, once the whiteboard of social acceptability has been wiped clean, intimacy and sex become acceptable tradeable commodities.
The Survivalist is grim, depressing and about the least life-affirming film you’re likely to see this year. Yet it is tense, wonderfully acted and a fascinating illustration of the instinctive brutality of humanity’s will to survive.