The Survivalist revolves around an unnamed male figure, simply referred to as the survivalist, and his existence in an uncivilized, post-apocalyptic world. The survivalist spends his time making it from day to day, but his quiet life is interrupted by a mother willing to trade sex with her daughter for their survival. The survivalist reluctantly takes them in, overcome by being alone for several years, but the duo brings with them tragedy and grief, upending the survivalist’s life.
While The Survivalist is a post-apocalyptic movie, the film doesn’t really discuss what happened to people or why the world is in the state it is in. There are no screaming zombies or piles of dead bodies, just an eerie quietness in the forest where most of the action takes place that shows viewers this is what the world has come to. In the wake of numerous post- apocalyptic films like The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, Zombieland, etc, it was refreshing for a film to explore this idea in a different light. There are no complicated systems in place that the film tries to explain, or explanations about how humans fell because of greed, for example.
This complacency and bleakness about the apocalypse comes from not only the somber attitudes of all three main characters, but is also intricately placed inside the nuances of the film. For example, besides the green of the plants on the farm the survivalist has cultivated, everything else is captured using a dull pallet. All the characters are dressed in neutral or earthy toned coloring, they hardly talk, and even their expressions are muted purposefully. In one scene that forces them to face the tragedy of the loss of their crop the camera doesn’t show them on their knees screaming or hysterically crying. They accept what has happened and they continue on because this is what their world is like now and they are just tolerant of it.
The Survivalist is also more of an arthouse type film in that it doesn’t use conventional techniques to tell a story. There is almost no dialogue in the entire film, except when it is necessary for the characters to speak. The actors do a great job of conveying ideas about their emotions and thoughts on the situations through body language and expressions. Personally, I do not like being spoon-fed a plot. I would rather digest it, and The Survivalist does a great job in that respect.
Another arthouse element The Survivalist employs well is coherent use of symbolic meaning. While this may sound like a simple compliment, unfortunately a lot of films like to employ this technique and then execute it poorly. One of the better examples in the film is reminiscent of the classic novel As I Lay Dying, as one of the characters must face death and is reconciling with that fact in a moment that cuts between them accepting it and then the aftermath. I won’t say any more as it will spoil it, but it is an incredibly strong scene.
However, while The Survivalist does a lot of things right, it does fall short in some respects as well. It’s a bleak film — almost too bleak. For instance, while not using dialogue is impressive, you still must fill the gaps in with interesting and notable scenes. Instead the viewer is treated to scenes of the mother floating in a river naked, the daughter blowing a harmonica, the survivalist wildly looking around at nothing, the trio gardening, and numerous shots of the trio eating.
Â I believe these scenes are to drive the point home that this life they’re living is completely bleak, even pointless, but it sometimes makes it boring to watch and doesn’t really give the viewer the opportunity to get attached to any of the characters. While my favorite character was the daughter, my list of why is mainly comprised of my interpretations of her actions, which just aren’t developed enough throughout the film.
There are also plenty of scenes in The Survivalist that I can do without. For example, there is one of the saddest masturbation scenes I have ever seen in film in The Survivalist, which I could forgive if it wasn’t for the fact that it is so out of place and serves absolutely no purpose. There are also unnecessary sequences which show the survivalist peeing in a bucket, the daughter using the bathroom in the river, and the movie making sure that viewers know the survivalist takes the time to clean his genitals and buttocks very thoroughly.
The argument can be made that these scenes are to show viewers what movies do not typically show you, as in what people do every day, but these shots didn’t add much to the movie or the overall story. So, while they could be important and make a statement about something instead they just turn out to be unnecessarily semi-vulgar.
Overall, if you enjoy arthouse-type films that are super unconventional or enjoy films about a post-apocalyptic world than I highly recommend The Survivalist. But, if you are more of an intense thriller, exciting story type of viewer, than you can skip this one.
Check it out when it releases in theaters and VOD on May 19th.
WICKED RATING 5/10
Director(s): Stephen Fingleton
Writer(s): Stephen Fingleton
Stars: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere
Studio/ Production Co: Fyzz Facility Film One
Release date: 2016
Length: 104 min