15/04/2016

The Survivalist - Alone

Thoughts On: The Survivalist

This contained sci-fi thriller stays with a man, the survivalist, in a world where the population has plummeted and food supplies are scarce, leaving only the adept and resourceful left to scratch their living. All until two women show up and threaten the survivalists precarious existence.


This is one of those pictures you stumble upon, a film that reminds you that there's always good material out there. This came out almost precisely a year ago - in a year that was quite good. 2015 gave us Inside Out, The Martian, Sicario, Brooklyn, The Revenant, Hateful Eight, Creed, Anomalisa and Straight Outta Compton. Three of those really blew me way, but the best film of 2015 was definitely The Lobster. Check out the link and please find the film if you haven't seen it yet. The Lobster was, for me, another one of those gems you stumble upon and are just blown away by. I feel this is because you feel a sense of ownership over more obscure films - especially when they are good. That said, that doesn't mean my expectations for such films are lower than blockbusters or for better know pictures, I go into all films with the hope that they'll be good, but braced for crap. At the same time however, I think those who really love cinema prefer to have their favourite films be more obscure. This is what I meant by a sense of ownership - it's like not wanting all the other kids to play with our toys. We just like to keep some things to ourselves. Anyway, this is a brilliant film. It's only downfalls come with the long haul it prepares you for with its tremendous atmosphere and control of pace, but then almost abrupt end. Straight off the bat it's made clear exactly what this film is, you know you're going to be alone with this guy, in silence, trapped in wilderness. I didn't even know that the two women were going to come along. I always like to go into films entirely cold. I don't read or watch reviews, I skip the synopsis and refuse to watch trailers (as much as I can). I sometimes even wish I hadn't know the title of a film as they can sometimes misrepresent it as a whole, merely implying it's premise. Two recent films come to mind with these ideas. The first is Hush which came out a few weeks ago and is about a deaf, mute woman who is trapped in her house by a murderous psycho. Not a bad film, but what has 'Hush' got to do with much? Yes, the woman is deaf, but Hush implies the film is about the woman hiding. My hope was that we'd follow the bad guy, and be forced to prey on the woman, leaving the title a sadistic nod to the audience. Twisted, but interesting. On the other hand, I think the film would have been a lot more interesting if we just stayed with the woman--were completely put in her world. Instead, direction splits the action, giving both characters equal sway and so, what you get is in spite of the title - which kind of makes sense, but merely feels like a trigger. I won't spoil anything, but suffice to say the film isn't about damsels in distress and is an objection to logic in horror films--a subject for another time however.

The Invitation is also a film that came out recently and is, in concept, the same as The Gift - which came out late last year. A guy and his new girl friend are invited to his ex-wive's home for an awkward, possibly malevolent, evening. Again, not a bad film, but this one is quite floored. Like in The Gift, the film wants to lead you on a twisting path, always whispering that something bad is going to happen whist showing the opposite. The problem with this is mainly that I don't like mysteries. These are active stories, they require an audience to participate, to guess what happens next. But, there's keeping you guessing, and then there's walking away a second before climax, leaving you high, dry and frustrated. In other words, this film teases way too much. The problem with this, especially when you go into the film blind, is that you're given expectations. I walked into The Invitation thinking the intriguing aspects of Eyes Wide Shut were going to meet Funny Games or Saw. Instead, what you get is a sit down and talk film something more akin to A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (without the great acting--still, not bad). You can feel that maybe the picture belongs on the stage, but don't mind that it's on the screen nonetheless. But, the problem in The Invitation is that it tells you over and over and over and over that that's what it is (a filmed stage play with a few cinematic elements) when you know it isn't, when you know there's going to be blood and carnage either at the second act marker or the half way point. *Spoilers* It holds out to the third act. *Spoilers over* But, knowing what to anticipate with this film makes it better. You can sit down and absorb the narrative - something that won't happen unless the film is half spoiled for you. The Invitation has quite a few interesting ideas, but I just couldn't get into them because of how much the film wanted to distract and lead me on. I mention these two films (Hush and The Invitation) because I didn't feel there was enough in them for me to want to write a whole post about, but also because they reflect what works so well in The Survivalist. Firstly, the title is spot-on, not elaborate or too deep, but well suited. Secondly, as I said before, you know where you stand with this film from the get go. You shouldn't need trailers, reviews, a synopsis to have a film work. I think it's perfectly fine to go into films having seen trailers and so on, but if it can't stand on its own, then the screenwriter's made a mistake. Hence my issues with The Invitation. I may make a return to it though as with second viewing I'll be able to digest it better (not have the sly nature of the writing annoy me) but, we'll see if it pops up in a later post. Anyway, on with The Survivalist...

This film, as should be pretty obvious, is about being alone. Start to end this film is quiet and controlled. This allows for it to be enthralling when little is happening, but very intense when things get... let's just say this film is quite graphic. It isn't graphic in a exploitative sense, but realistic--you're alone in the forest and nudity doesn't much matter to you. But more than that, there are quite a few teeth grinding moments, one in particular that you will definitely be aware of if you've seen the film. Those elements I felt were all handled well though. Like I said in the beginning, the only real problem with the film is the run time in face of atmosphere. I could have easily accepted half an hour, maybe an hour of more story in this film, but it's only 100 mins long. This left the end abrupt. That's not to say it wasn't satisfying or right for the film, but, tonally, the director (Stephen Fingleton - this being his first feature) didn't handle the arc of the story too well. The climax didn't rise high enough to obviously be a climax--but leaving me want more isn't much of a criticism. Let's get into this though. Here on out I won't be censoring story elements like I did for the other two films discussed as this is both a year old and I don't want to merely review, but explore. Anyway, one thing good survival films remind us all is that we are doomed if that zombie apocalypse really happens. As in the film everything will be brought down to a very primitive level. What really makes this film work is it's frank pragmatism. The young thrive (get by), men are the hunters and the protectors whilst women have to employ more devious means of surviving when they can't get on with men. This of course translates to the two women (one old, one young - mother and daughter probably) only being able to stay with the man in exchange for the younger of the two having sex with him. In a modern context, that rings all the bells and buzzers as women are strong and independent. Which they are, which leaves me utterly astounded knowing that people would object to the younger girl exchanging sex for food. Does that not take strength? Is that really so unfair? Both men and women are using each other, but in equal return. If there is any unbalance it's in the fact that the man is literally trading away his life (food) for sex. But, in my opinion that's nonsense--as the film makes clear.

Bringing everything down to a need and want level could alienate some as the film has traits of a romance--but that it is not. The film doesn't devolve into romance to illustrate a point of human need. This is beautifully portrayed on-screen with as much dialogue taken out of the scenes as possible, replacing words with action as to conjure the atmosphere of a pure cinema that the film perfectly understood it required. Character action and intent is clear as day allowing the pragmatism of the film to delve deep into a tug of war between personal existence and surviving as part of a group. This comes back to the idea of food vs. sex. It's the film in a rough nutshell. It's life in a rough nutshell to be honest. You simply can't disagree with the man who has been in the forest for 7 years (alone in part, but with a brother who died early on) wanting to keep a young woman in his company. At the same time, you can't disagree with an older woman wanting to kill him to take over his farm and secluded home. What the film argues is primarily in juxtaposition to the idea of equality that we are so fixated on. Women and men are shown to be different in this film (which they obviously are). However, in the end we need each other. When the predators come lurking, the man is there to fend them off. When the man is hurt, the women are there to tend his wounds. When night comes and both are alone, they are there for each other. Men and women have been objectified, but for the purpose of objective. To de-objectify or un-objectify either is to lose sight of the primary goal, of the objective: survival. Alone both suffer. This is becoming more and more relevant in a society of growing individualism. I'm not against this, but it's clear that we need reminding of that zombie apocalypse. In my opinion, this is why The Walking Dead, Game Of Thrones, Hunger Games (all the other Y.A dystopian adaptations on top of that) and GTA V are the most popular genres in each of their fields respectively. What intrigues us is the idea that we are not equipped for their chaotic worlds. In the same way Grug, the caveman in The Croods, paints cautionary tales of individualist adventure on walls, we're making films that require us to adapt a few of his mannerisms before his whole character arc. This isn't a devolution, but reminder that we must be adapted to our environment.

More than reminding us where we sit in the world, this film expresses just why we are individuals in modern society. Individuality is an illusion. You're only allowed to dye your hair blue, wear tattered jeans, and cruise about on a long board because of the huge system around you. Humans are closer than ever, this is the paradox of the modern information age. Yes, industrialisation took us away from our physical roots, from the countryside and into cities, but only because countries as a whole were learning to look after each other. It's because we have a vast network of commodity whiring about us that we can ignore the fact that we are so dependant on each other. In the film's world everyone is hostel, willing to kill to get by. Sure you might say you'd kill to get the last pack of muffins in the store, but come on. This is the likes of which Game Of Thrones and Hunger Games speak to. They, like this film are anti-individualist for the sake of the individual. You are a human in these worlds. Nothing more. You are alive with a gun or knife in your hand or you are dead without one. There are are no long boarding, blue haired, snowflakes. This is the social commentary of the film. Forget who you are and remember what you have, what you can do, who is standing by you. This is what so many films are screaming at us, check my film list and you'll see that so many films are about you, but 'you' as an idea, as a human. We refuse to look at ourselves in this light so often. This sucks away all pragmatism, all sense, all ability to analyse truth beyond moral or opinion. I cite In TimeSunrise: A Song Of Two Humans and Grizzly Man here. Names matter, but only to a select few. This explains the end of the film. It doesn't matter to us what the survivalist's name was, or what his baby will be called. It's none of our business. What matters is his actions. You could say that he was a selfish person, that everyone in this world is savage and immoral, but, firstly, grown up, and secondly, what else are we supposed to be? We are our actions, not that sound people make so we turn our heads. I don't mean this in a 'you be you' sense. I mean this is a tree fallen in a dark woods sense. We shouldn't care what people have done, who they claim to be, but who we know them as, what we have seen them do.

All in all, The Survivalist makes the fundamental of utmost importance, reminding us that characters are actions and that we are all indeed characters in ourselves. Dependant or independent, in our world, as a human, you still need others. Before you go, click those links up there if you've not read the posts. Or, the ones below for more Thoughts On: film essays like this one on a wide range of films...




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