Wednesday 4 May 2016

The Survivalist

The Survivalist is both written and directed by Stephen Fingleton and, according to IMDb, is his first feature-length film since 2006. In a post-apocalyptic time, a man who has lived on a small, self-created farm for 7 years suddenly finds his whole existence threatened when two women, a mother and a daughter, ask him for food and shelter. With low levels of trust all round, the world he lives in becomes even more tense.

I’ll start by saying this is a simple film. It’s about as far away from Hollywood as you can get – no massively obvious plot, no music (apart from music played by the characters), no massively obvious plot, hardly any spoken words at all, and certainly no fluff. It is what it is – brutal, unforgiving, and incredibly blunt (no conveniently placed furniture to cover up nudity here!). It’s incredibly realistic though, and demonstrates exactly what I love about more alternative, arts-based films. It doesn’t have to follow the rules, or stick to the standard storyline structure, as it just works as it is.

The film has a very slow start, but it works really well and, despite a real lack of communication between the characters (there are probably about thirty lines in the film, if that), their development is not hindered. It’s a big challenge to create developed characters in such a situation, and so in a way I’d say it’s more effective than if they’d introduced more dialogue. The film had a small budget, and yet you can hardly tell – it uses everything it has to its potential.

Martin McCann is a great choice for the main character (unnamed) – he somehow seems as though he really has been living in the wild for that long, with his animal-like movements and cold-blooded stare. Mia Goth and Olwen Fouere play excellent support actresses, bringing a real feeling of tension and foreboding to each scene. The camera work is great as well with some really nice, underused shots/angles, and a few of them really utilising blurriness as a way of keeping the viewer from feeling safe.

There’s definitely a lot of disturbing and potentially distressing scenes, so it’s not one for the faint-hearted. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single happy scene in the film, although that’s not a bad thing – you only need to watch the trailer to understand just how bleak it’s going to be. I felt the trailer misinterpreted the film slightly which made me feel almost cautious to watch it, but luckily some of the best bits were kept for the full viewing. I also learnt a load of good (if potentially weird) survival tips, but each one was accompanied by either a nauseating or strangely intimate scene which was almost too uncomfortable to watch.

This isn’t a downside at all – sometimes the best films are the ones which challenge the norm and get us to watch things that usually we would shy away from. A lot of different things were confronted in this film and, although it could have been too much, I never found myself wanting to stop watching. It was actually really compelling – an experience, rather than just a watch. It may be a bit too art-house for some, and it’s certainly not a film to cheer you up, but if you enjoyed films like Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin) and We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay), then I strongly recommend you give The Survivalist a watch.

I give it a 5/5.


Hannah Read

The Survivalist at CeX

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