The Survivalist review: A haunting debut picture looks at surviving the fall of society without adding monsters or huge action set-pieces.
A great way to exploit a low budget and still get powerful results is to limit locations and cast while still tackling a universally recognisable idea at the core. The Survivalist does this by taking us to a dystopian future where something has ravaged mankind and society as we know it has fallen. There’s no Hunger Games, zombies, monsters, or tyrannical governments here though, just man and woman; the most dangerous monsters of them all.
Martin McCann is the titular survivalist who lives out in the woods in a small cabin. He spends his days growing his own vegetables and filtering his own water while constantly on guard for trespassers or threats. The opening is a slow build up, but a very much appreciated one. You get a true sense of the monotony and hard work that goes into survival. Bear Grylls would have you think it’s all excitement, but there is a delightfully boring aspect that adds strength to the more tense parts to come.
The survivalist’s existence is put under threat after the arrival of Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth). The duo don’t seem particularly dangerous, but in a world where food is so scarce an individualist approach to survival takes over. However, in the language of man one thing speaks louder than survival and that’s sex. The survivalist accepts an offer of sex for meal or two and a place to sleep for the night. Against his better judgement one night turns into another and we begin to wonder whether true relationships are blossoming, or if Kathryn and Milja have more sinister motives.
The Survivalist has an incredible sense of desperation running through it, which many other survival films fail to capitalise on. It does make it a more difficult watch, and one that borders the line of depressing, but it also looks at humanity’s need for connection, and other themes such as trust. McCann is fantastic as the lead and can certainly carry scenes by himself. He carries a haunting look that negates the need to go too far into the history of the film’s world.
Unfortunately, despite its mature and considerate exploration of the subject matter, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. The film does the best with its budget but ultimately feels too constrained and hollow at times. Stephen Fingleton impresses with his debut feature, but it’s obvious he comes from a background in short films as The Survivalist feels stretched out to just before breaking point. It certainly deserves attention for all involved, but probably won’t hold your attention for its entire length.
The Survivalist review by Luke Ryan Baldock, February 2016.
The Survivalist is released in cinemas and On Demand from 12th February.