After Inarritu’s award-winning compelling tale of survival The Revenant, it’s hard to think anything of a similar nature could even be remotely on the same scale. As an intriguing timeline flashes on screen, one line for world population and the other, oil production, with both proceeding to plummet rapidly, it becomes clear director Stephen Fingleton is making a very different film about the notion of surviving, and yet remains just as captivating.
Beginning with a quarter of an hour of pure silence, in a baron, post-apocalyptic landscape; the pace is immediately set. There is no doubt about it, The Survivalist is a slow-burner, but such a tactic is utilised well and above all else essential to such a narrative. A man, who we know merely as ‘Survivalist’ (Martin McCann) is living off the land, hunting for sustenance and protecting what little he has with all his might. This man has nothing and what he does have is virtually gold. In a world deprived of everything we have grown to take for granted, in a very Rick Grimes of The Walking Dead kind of way (minus the sheriff badge), his initial reaction when a mother and daughter ask for his help is of course, no.
As they try desperately to get even just a morsel of food, the unthinkable happens as the young woman’s mother offers her barely legal daughter as a reward for a bowl of food and a bed for the night. At times we bear witness just how archaic and traditional one can become if everything and everyone you ever cared about was ripped away day by day.
The Survivalist is independent cinema at its finest; scenes that conventional Hollywood would deem too raw and unusual are the crux of this film. Tension builds as madness consumes our protagonist, the woman only deemed worth of sleeping with get the upper hand, although nature plays a dangerous card eliminating any sort of a remotely happy ending. Visions enhance this troubled mans’ state of mind but feels contrived, while the Biblical references don’t seem entirely necessary. The film’s message is so profound it would have resonated without such conventional tropes. Mia Goth, who plays the young woman, brings to life a demure, plain-Jane brunette, while Olwen Fouere turns in an accomplished display as her mother.
Meanwhile McCann brings a terrific performance to this troubled man trying desperately to make his way in such a devastating environment. The brutality and violence outline the truth and as words, ‘I did what I had to do’ resonant deep, revealing exactly how primal humans are if they are pushed to unbearable limits. Not without scenes that will you squirm, avert your eyes and shuffle in your seats; The Survivalist hatches a rather haunting tale that will linger for days.