Dir. Stephen Fingleton. 2016.

Talking Pictures alias







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  This dark piece, belonging firmly in the post-apocalyptic horror/thriller sub-genre has acquired rave reviews and a BAFTA nomination. Often a consensus emerges around a film with scant features of merit, and the British 'darling fraternity' are especially good at this.  Examples of fervent 'luvvie appreciation' include 28 Days/28 Days Later, Attack the Block, Monsters and Troll Hunter. Lest we forget Dog Soldiers, the Brit venture into werewolf territory, and the marginally great Kill List. 

The Survivalist is here with them, the above 'small cinema' company in the ludicrously overrated low budget feature camp where it has been decided in advance that this is a ground breaker, a game changer etc…erm, it isn't. When one of the only reviewers pitching against this consensus wants to tell the truth about a feature, it can feel like treason to say so. But there are, however plenty of good things about it, so, those will be the items of note here. Maybe the focus on the good stuff will prevent a traitor's death. It is finely made, with exceptional cinematography and if seen at all, must be on a large cinema or television screen. The acting of the three main leads is focused, lean, tight, with all nuance of feeling evident without the use of heavy dialogue, exposition or downbeat drama.  The story twists often incline towards the storylines in Threads, the post nuclear TV Drama, or The Beguiled, the Seigal/Eastwood feature as aspects of making a life with rudimentary basics and the male/female dynamic in a claustrophobic and bare (in more ways than one) environment are realised. Sometimes, not surprisingly, it feels like a western with the hero preserving a world and life with little to defend himself against approaching outsiders.

The lone keeper of a small allotment of barely grown and functioning plant life (synonymous with that grown on Mars in The Martian but no-where near as well thought out), the survivalist (Martin McGann) gets by, just and it is clear that this potential harvest would take at least another year to sustain life. Genuine recycling and sustainable development are deployed via the reconstitution of urine and sperm. Tattered remnants of life in the form of decaying pictures occupy the mind of the Survivalist himself, descending into a reasonable paranoia.  Coming into view and existence are a scrawny woman, shock white haired in late middle age, with teenage daughter wishing to share the subsistence, offering at first legumes, then erm, earthier stuff.

The rest is a pot boiling three hander, which could just have well have been a stage play. For all the outdoor location work (there are barely any sound effects par that provided by nature herself), most action takes place in a tiny 'bottom of the garden' shed. The women, Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and Mila (Mia Goth) are in turns together, then not in their aims and motives with the origins of their relationship not altogether clear, itself possibly the result of a bargaining. With survival as motive, the usual character development via the overcoming of flaws to reach ultimate goal is going to get us rooting for any of them. What holds the attention is seeing how this all plays out, who will live, die and by what means and by who's hand.  There is the mention of the need for protein at a crucial point in the proceedings (the point when anyone watching will wonder how thin soup keeps three people energised sufficient for gardening and sex) and one of the major flaws in the film is the absence of any running theme about the anatomical needs vs what is available. This should have been more apparent in subtext and would and should have provided some much needed tension as the pace of the film is slow to pedestrian. As much as the characterisation and acting are strong, the film feels for so much of it as though watching nothing.

The end is satisfactory and the film, overall, is a keeper, not due to its capacity to draw repeated satisfaction, but because what it does have to offer is delivered so very, very well.

The Survivalist is out now on DVD.

Gail Spencer

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