That’s basically the concept of writer/director Stephen Fingleton’s début feature, a harsh survival thriller with minimal characters and action. In fact, it has minimal everything – the cinematography and sound design are stripped-down, while whole scenes go by with hardly any dialogue. All of this results in a movie as miserable and slow as the life of its characters, at times feeling like a short film being played at the wrong speed – indeed, this plot done as a short could be well worth watching.
What should, in theory, be The Survivalist’s strength is the relationships between the characters – with three leads in a confined environment, good performances are essential. And yet they often repel us, with little compassion or depth on show; McCann’s titular Survivalist is cold and nasty at the beginning and continues to act as such throughout the film, leaving his final act of kindness unconvincing. The saving grace is Mia Goth’s performance as Milja, the most interesting by far of the three characters; Goth lends nuance to the girl’s confusion between loyalty to her mother and affection for the Survivalist (despite his brutality and ridiculous hair).
At least the stark, unflashy presentation of its visuals does allow certain gory events, when they do occur, to have a believable, shocking impact – a gunfight against attacking raiders is very tense, while one particular operation Milja has to perform is difficult to watch in all the right ways.
Ultimately, though, these moments are few and far between. The Survivalist has been touted as an antidote to blockbuster post-apocalypse movies like The Hunger Games, but is it a needed antidote? At least those films (well, some of them) have characters we can enjoy watching and plots we can get invested in. Aside from a strong performance from Goth and a commendable willingness to show us the gory stuff, The Survivalist is a miserable film that outstays its welcome. Give this writer Katniss any day.
THE SURVIVALIST / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: STEPHEN FINGLETON / STARRING: MARTIN MCCANN, MIA GOTH, OLWEN FOUERE / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 12TH
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10