Tribeca Film Festival 2015 Review: The Survivalist

The most basic instinct of man is to survive, to persevere and overcome obstacles to extend life. Many films explore this theme and it usually provides for some rather riveting storytelling. The new indie Irish export The Survivalist is one such film and it is a tale that, while told in a bleak and harsh manner, is a film definitely worth checking out. The performances are all quite good and the filmmaking style is of the utmost quality. Fans of taut premises and sobering scenarios should take in this special film because it is among the finest, not only of Irish cinema but recent indie cinema in general.

Set in a gloomy rural future, The Survivalist follows a man simply known as, well, “The Survivalist” (Martin McCann) and his attempts at living a simple and quiet existence. Food is scarce and this gentleman has a small farm which seems to be doing well. Things seem to be going fine, that is until Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) show up randomly, asking for food and shelter. From this point on, we get a twisted and dark story about just what some people will do to survive. A “romance” develops between the Survivalist and Milja and the audience is subjected to uncomfortable silences and scattered awkwardness.

With many films predicting the future as a gray wasteland, The Survivalist takes that aged formula and makes it somewhat fresh. The actors are largely responsible for this and the results are really quite strong. Martin McCann (Clash of the TitansBoogaloo and Graham) is brilliant in the film’s lead and his vulnerably and strength are highlighted well all throughout. Olwen Fouere (This Must Be the PlaceSpace Truckers) is also particularly on point as a woman who has pretty much seen it all and wants the very best for her daughter. She is the epitome of strength and her tough exterior serves as a perfect yin to the Survivalist’s yang. Rounding out the small cast is young Mia Goth (Nymphomaniac: Vol. IIMagpie), who is flawless as an impressionable teenager caught in a tricky situation. Her wide-eyed optimism and lack of experience provides for some very interesting plot.

The Survivalist is a solid film with near perfect performances. Director Stephen Fingleton (SLRMagpie) has put together a small movie with big payoff. Everything about the picture works and feels as though it was meticulously worked on and cared for. One aspect of the film worth mentioning is the sound, which while seeming natural and unaffected, was actually manufactured in post production. The sound department really stepped up with The Survivalist, creating an extremely rich tapestry full of rainfall, distant woodland animals and rumpling of leaves. One can really feel that they are in the woods with these three characters all due to the craftsmen behind the aural magic. While many people seek positive and uplifting films, The Survivalist is far from that. This is a movie that is depressing and at times, disturbing. That’s not to say it’s a bad film. In fact, this is one of the better movies to come out in recent times.

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