Survivalist, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/22/16 15:16:05
SCREENED AT THE 2016 BOSTON SCI-FI FESTIVAL: There are several types of survivalist in stories that take place after the collapse of civilization, from the gregarious fellow who knows how to live off the land and aims to share that knowledge and bounty to the outsider who somehow gets by to the guy who at least partially welcomes a situation where he can be entirely self-sufficient and can justify killing anyone who takes any party of what is his. The title character of "The Survivalist" at least seems to be on the rightward edge of that spectrum, and what makes the film kind of interesting is that it provides much less to push him toward community than most films of its sort do.He's played by Martin McCann, and while he doesn't necessarily sleep well, he gets by better than many in a simple shed on a plot of land that grows just enough to sustain him. He can also handle a weapon well enough to defend that garden and is not particularly moved by the suffering of those who don't have that much. When Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) comes along, he's not terribly impressed by the seeds she offers in trade, but she does have another commodity to offer: Daughter Milja (Mia Goth) is in her teens or early twenties and it has been a long time.
It's a calculated offer that plays into some stereotypes that, aside from being sexist, don't seem to have much room for showing the audience something new. Perhaps there's something to reducing everyone to familiar types, in that without civilization, there's not much opportunity or reason to have personalities; these people are intelligent enough to think in terms of making it to next year rather than just tomorrow, but when not dealing with people as anything but competition for scant resources, there's little reason to worry about being liked or hated. It makes them into thoughtful animals, acting on instincts but being able to plan.
This still gives filmmaker Stephen Fingleton a fair amount of material to work with, and he proves adept at trading just enough detail out of it to make things interesting. Watching McCann's character, and later the women, go about the business of scratching just enough out of the ground to move on satisfies the curiosity, and the quiet moments when a few simple words exchanged by Kathryn and Milja remind the audience that this situation can't hold indefinitely keep some suspense up. He also makes sure this is a grimy movie, with little beauty in living off the land, with everything from the cabin's disorder to the unglamorous nudity reminding the audience of the lack of civilization and interaction. The final act contain some shocking bits, but also plenty that are grim but inevitable.
There's not a lot of showy acting for the cast to do, but they commit to the movie's post-collapse setting with the various hard shells they portray. McCann gets the most performance that allows him to emote the most; even if he doesn't talk much, he snarls when he does and there is no mistaking the hostility he feels toward the rest of humanity. He's able to slide into the protagonist slot in part because his gruffness seems transparent, even if he is often a mean piece of work. Fouere, on the other hand, plays things cool as Kathryn, visibly thinking through what is necessary for her and her daughter to survive, never overly cruel but also setting it up so that her lack of sentimentality is no surprise. Goth gives a more emotional performance, with Milja more obviously capable of being influenced, as her role is not quite so set.The slow build leads to a surprisingly exciting finale, albeit one that does seem a little bit out of place. Still, "The Survivalist" is a cut above the typical post-apocalyptic survival movie, and seems born more of the filmmaker's ideas about life after civilization than just pondering what sort of movie can be made with few resources other than an old shack.
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