'The Survivalist': Tribeca Review

An assured debut with a lean, life-and-death atmosphere

Three loners attempt to trust each other after civilization's end

A post-apocalyptic drama as stripped-down as its title suggests, The Survivalist envisions end times in which each encounter with a new human entails a hard calculus of risk versus advantage. More hard-edged Western than sci-fi, it eschews dialogue as much as possible while still conveying the ambivalence of a lone man who allows two women to share his secluded shelter. Fine performances help first-timer Stephen Fingleton tell this simple tale, whose starkness should command attention on the fest circuit.

Martin McCann plays the unnamed man at the movie's center, a hermit of careful habits whose small garden is closely guarded, fertilized by the bodies of those who have threatened him. When young Milja (Mia Goth) and her older companion Kathryn (Olwen Fouéré) stumble upon his shack, it takes a very long time for him to lower his gun and begin to bargain with them.

They trade sex for food (he has lived here seven years, and one presumes he hasn't seen many women in that time), and even after they've negotiated a less transactional partnership, anything like trust is shaky. Where The Walking Dead and other after-the-fall thrillers tend to focus on dramatic standoffs, here the possible betrayals are stealthy, as are the recalculations that avert them. In the absence of a musical score, Fingleton lets his characters' silences speak loudly of what they've seen and endured. (A smart bit of graphics accompanying the opening credits conveys all we need to know about how the world got this way, showing a graph on which two lines labeled "population" and "oil production" rise sharply in tandem and then plummet even more dramatically.)

Threats from a roving gang eventually encourage the three to work together, and while Fingleton doesn't spend much time in outright nail-biter mode, a few smartly conceived scenes underline the vulnerability that comes with this little house's seclusion in the woods. DP Damien Elliott pulls off one especially eloquent maneuver in tall grass, using a fluid camera movement to shift the story's me-versus-you dynamics. The eponymous survivor can only exist so long in isolation, we realize, before confronting, or even embracing, his survival's end.

Production company: The Fyzz Facility

Cast: Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouéré

Director-Screenwriter: Stephen Fingleton

Producers: Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, David Gilbery

Director of photography: Damien Elliott

Production designer: Dick Lunn

Costume designer: Susan Scott

Editor: Mark Towns

Casting director: Rose Wicksteed

Sales: Carl Clifton, K5 Media Group

 

No rating, 103 minutes

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