Monday, May 01, 2017

Character Actions Speak Louder than Words in The Survivalist: A Film Review

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*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by IFC Films.

Director/writer: Stephen Fingleton.

Cast: Mia Goth, Martin McCann and Andrew Simpson.

The Survivalist is an indie film from Northern Irish director Stephen Fingleton. This title has been completed since 2015 and it has appeared at a number of film festivals, in the interim. In the future, oil is scarce and the population is dwindling as people turn on each other. Alone, one man has survived the post-collapse world by laying low and farming. This strategy for survival quietens the film considerably. Much of the film is told via body language, through the film's trio of characters. And, The Survivalist answers an important question, for this viewer, how would the Irish survive the looming apocalypse? The Survivalist is more than a worst-case scenario and film fans are encouraged to find out how.

The protagonist never speaks his name. He goes about preserving himself, by leading a quiet life. He farms during the day and reminisces during the night. The first fifteen minutes are without any dialogue as the story unfolds through body language; it is all in the eyes. Events take an uptick when Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and Milja (Mia Goth) enter the picture. The duo are a mother and a daughter team and they are practically starving. The three central characters come to a comfortable exchange of food for sex. But, each character looks out for their own life in various ways, some are murderous. The climax finishes with a flourish of action as raiders enter the farm. Still, The Survivalist is not an action film and more of tense thriller.

The Survivalist is a small film. Fingleton has cut his teeth, in the film world, via a number of shorts. Some of these shorter films are available on the Blu-ray launch, of this title. And, The Survivalist was created via two production houses. On smallness, this title is set in one, exterior location. Events never really exit the forest, until very late into the third act. It is difficult to make a cabin and a small farm interesting, but Fingleton has found a way. As well, there are only really three characters. Other, more minor characters enter the fray here and there. None of them really speak, though. Also, The Survivalist focuses on interactions through body language. Few lines are actually spoken between any of the characters. These filmmaking methods and set-ups simplify The Survivalist considerably. Still, there is enough conflict and back-biting here, to keep the film tense and interesting.

It was great to see Fingleton answer the question: how would the Irish survive in a post-collapse situation? The Irish are no stranger to hardship. From Cromwell to the potato famine, there is no shortage of tragedies in Irish history. Hardships create toughness, however. The characters in the film often come across as stoic. They are also practical. And, it was interesting to see a return to the land, in the film's dire scenario. Without technology, it is back to the basics, like farming. The film's portrayal of doom and the Irish response to this scenario would be just as practical. The Survivalist comes across as realistic, in its portrayals and in the characters' quiet hardiness.

The Survivalist has been out for a number of years and most post-apocalyptic fans have probably seen the film already. Still, IFC Films will launch The Survivalist in theatres and through Video-on-demand, in the middle of May, for American viewers. The Survivalist is a quiet film and often more still, than kinetic. Much is conveyed through the actors, through subtle characterizations and body movements, including facial signals. Dialogue, settings and conflict are minimized, to tell a more intimate tale. Fans looking for a Mad Max (1979) or The Road Warrior (1981) styled feature will be disappointed here. But, this viewer was intrigued by the interplay of the three characters and their desires to each outfox the others. Other indie film fans will also enjoy Fingleton's mostly quiet portrayal of Ireland's final, fictional moments.

Overall: 7 out of 10.

A trailer for the film: A The Survivalist Trailer on 28DLA

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