I wondered while watching the film, with its foreboding isolation and sense of doom why The Walking Dead could not be similar. Of course, it’s a stupid question to ask why consumer kitsch like that can’t walk down the same road as this elementary art house drama. I don’t even know if many people are aware of this movie, or after it’s current limited release, many ever will be. But I’d diagnose it as good for one watch, with caution.
The film could probably be compared to John Carmac’s ‘The Road’, or I’ll do you one better, the novelised version of that story, which was even more bleak than the Hollywood adaptation with substratal death lurking everywhere. The world has ended and Martin McCann (title character) is living in seclusion in the woods of Ireland. The man survives by his wits, vegetable patch and shotgun, two shells only of course. This paleolithic existence is interrupted when two women show up, one old (Olwen Fouere) and one young, fertile (Mia Goth, Shia LeBeouf’s woman).
The Survivalist is John Fingleton’s directorial debut and a feature stripped of dialogue, music and cast. The story is told largely through suggestion and conversations often conveyed through gesture and even breathing. For that, I can see it being dismissed by many. It’s largely a play on senses and suspicion. Mind you, some people will forgive the movie all faults simply because of its art house style and counter-kitsch stubbornness.
The film is short on narrative, part of its character. But what little information is given already introduces plot holes. A man of few words, ‘The Survivalist’ reveals that he’s been living in his shack for seven years. It’s hard to believe that a man could stay completed secluded for seven years, then within the space of a few months his area comes alive with activity and discovery. There are things, particularly revealed at the end, that should have been impossible for him not to have found. There’s also too much nudity, the wrong kind, old woman nudity and full frontal male nudity – then the movie becomes uneven and balks at sex scenes featuring Mia Goth, apparently the visceral tone stops short of sex – yet what could be more primitive?
The Survivalist works as a one time deal though through its sense of impending menace. Throughout, the film uses its heavy power of suggestion to warn of the inevitable, that someone is coming. And not to barter. That and the occasional interesting practical technique to maintain a life ‘off the grid’ kept me interested, but not enough to watch it again.