New this week on BluRay/DVD from IFC Midnight and The Shout Factory!
Directed by Stephen Fingleton
Written by Stephen Fingleton
Starring Mia Goth, Martin McCann, Andrew Simpson, Olwen Fouere, Barry Ward, Kieri Kennedy, Hussina Raja, Michael Og Lane, Douglas Russell, Ryan McParland, Ciaran Flynn, Jeremy Martin, Sean Doupe, Caitlin Deeds, Logan Kerr, Aaron Goldring, Matthew Henry, Dexter Louca Godfrey, Aran Downey
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Reminiscent of another apocalyptic tale, HERE ALONE (reviewed here) where one woman’s structured life after the zombie apocalypse is torn asunder when she encounters a pair of survivors, THE SURVIVALIST flips genders and follows a man living on his own after society collapses. There are no zombies in THE SURVIVALIST, but with the high amount of similarities between the two films, they would make for one hell of a double feature.
Martin McCann plays a nameless man living in the middle of a forest. The opening moments show him tending to his garden, recycling the forest around him in order to survive. There are hints as to what happened to the civilized world, but no real explanation is offered. All we need to know is that this man lives off the land and is doing a decent, though mundane and somewhat simple, life from it. Enter a woman named Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) who show up on the Survivalist’s land offering seeds for some food. When the Survivalist turns them down, Kathryn offers up sexy times with her daughter Milja as payment as it appears the Survivalist has been on his own without the companionship of a woman in quite some time. The Survivalist agrees and thus the loner enters a tentative pact with the mother and daughter, sex for sustenance. Though he keeps them at a distance, the Survivalist begins to trust Kathryn and Milja, but this is a dangerous world. With Milja and Kathryn thinking of their own survival and strangers lurking in the woods looking to pillage and plunder what the Survivalist has grown, our hermit finds that solitude is a hard thing to keep.
THE SURVIVALIST is a somber and humorless story of the age old message “No man is an island.” The lead’s need for interaction and loneliness is highlighted in the opening moments where he soullessly goes through his routine, not because he has a passion for life, but because it is just something to get him through to the next day. Sure, letting the two women into his well structured life is a mistake that he ends up paying for dearly, but it also shows that despite the sacrifices and hardships, this need to interact with others is one of man’s most base instincts. While he fights this urge, the title character cannot deny interacting with others, even though every instinct tells him to lock his door and ignore the wanderers’ pleas for help. This is a sensitive and humanist story about a harsh world that forces people to close up, yet there still is confirmation that an undeniable urge to connect exists in all of us. It’s a simple tale with little talking and a small cast, but still is communicates a powerful message.
McCann, Goth, and Fouere all three deliver powerful performances here. McCann reminds me of a younger and more gaunt Christian Bale—offering up an intensity that is understandable given the situation. Still he is likable as the lead despite his hesitance to trust and will to survive over everything else. Fouere is equally powerful and while it might seem wrong to offer up her daughter as an object, the angst she feels for doing this desperate act is palpable here, communicated with a furrowed brow and a blank stare. Goth is great here as well, flipping between innocent flower to animal with claws ready to unsheathe in a heartbeat. None of them trust one another and they are simply using each other for what they can get from the other, but still, they are able to show guarded humanity in their interactions that eventually grow into a powerful bond. Set in a world where the monster is man itself, this film relies on the powerful performances of guards being shifted and lowered ever so slightly. No bold emotional moves occur here, just logical character shifts and McCann, Goth, and Fouere do this masterfully.
THE SURVIVALIST is a somber tale with not even a moment of frivolity or joy in the whole film. It is what the title suggests. The characters don’t love or flourish or have fun. They simply survive to live another day. It’s a morose film and one that isn’t going to leave you with a happy feeling. But it is a powerful film of doing what needs to be done in order to see the next sunrise. Sober and unflinchingly stark, THE SURVIVALIST tells an allegory of the end of the world that is not too different to the guarded and self-centered world we live in today. This makes for some uncomfortable and joyless viewing, but also a powerful movie experience.