The Survivalist has been making the rounds at some of the film festivals to rave reviews and has garnered a 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I managed to track this film down On Demand to see what the all the fuss was about. The film stars Martin McCann (The Pacific, ’71) known only as “Survivalist”. He did have a brother named Agustus but the way survivalist tells it, “He got careless and I did what I had to do”. Survivalist lives by himself in a little cabin in the middle of nowhere where he grows all of his own food. This film picks up after a cataclysmic catastrophe renders the end of times, so to speak. Food is scarce and the world has been reduced to roving bands of cannibals, thieves and murderers all fighting to survive.
Mr. Survivlist has a very quiet existence. He is always in fear of someone coming, killing him and taking away what he has created. Needless to say, he is not much of a people person. One morning he is awakened by two women snooping around in his garden. Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and a young girl, Mija (Mia Goth) ask for food and a place to stay. Survivalist is apprehensive and reluctantly lets them stay on. In exchange, Mija agrees to “be with him”. It is here Survivalist’s life starts to unravel. The basic message of the film is, when the chips are down, self-preservation is number one. Not exactly the most positive and uplifting message for a film.
Let me just say, The Survivalist is not for everyone. It has been compared to the Mad Max films, but aside from the plot, there is not much that is like any of the Mad Max films. Mad Max and all of its sequels are more action and stunt based films. The Survivalist has some action but nothing like the Mad Max films. You get three main characters and a cabin in the woods. There is no vehicular mayhem in this one. I am not saying that is a good or bad thing. Every film has its place in history. More people will remember Mad Max than The Survivalist.
The Survivalist is a strange little film. It is a well-acted film with the three leads doing a great deal without much dialogue. They simply don’t talk to each other except when they must. There are long stretches in this film where no dialogue is even spoken making this one of the quietest films I have ever seen. The characters are not overdone and behave in ways I would imagine they would in this situation. None of them are innocent and when it comes down to the food supply, no one is safe. They connive and scheme through the whole film. “There is enough food for two but not three” Kathryn tells Mija.
The Survivalist is fairly graphic in spots with the little violence it has and is even more graphic with the nudity. I guess when the Apocolypse comes, those who survive are a little less modest than before. Let me just say, I saw enough in this film to last a long time. As for the story, The Survivalist was compelling enough to keep me interested and I did care what happened to these characters. McCann, Goth and Fouere do a fine job with their performances and I respected writer and director Stephen Fingleton’s gutsy move to keep this story solemnly subdued. It is more about what they don’t seem to say than what they do say. It gets into the psyche of these characters and it was interesting to see how they reacted to one another.
I was even more respectful to Mr. Fingleton for the fact that this film has no score. It has an end credits theme and that is all. Now as most of you who know me are aware, I love film scores. It is a lost and underappreciated art form. So when a film comes along and scraps a score, that takes guts. It means the filmmakers have enough faith in their story that it does not need music to enhance their film. I would not recommend this for other films but for a film like The Survivalist, where silence means life or death, depending on who hears you in the woods, lack of a score works.
Although I did not go nuts over this film the way some (most) critics have, I did like The Survivalist. It was quietly compelling and sad, although there were sometimes the pacing seemed to slow down a bit. It is a bold and courageous film that tells a tired story in a different way that makes it fresh and interesting. Now, if we can convince people to keep their clothes on and maintain their modesty the Apocalypse might not be that bad, after all.
The Survivalist – ***1/2 out of 5
The Survivalist – Rated R for graphic nudity, violence, language, adult and sexual situations
The Survivalist – Run Time is 105 minutes
The Survivalist is now playing in select cities, film festivals and is available On Demand and through subscriptions services.