The Survivalist: Getting by in a cutthroat world
by Samuel Antichi
- Stephen Fingleton's debut feature is a provocative, foreboding thriller, which is screening in the Twilight Zone section of the Stockholm Film Festival
In a dystopian future where the grid has come crashing down and humanity is starving, an unnamed man (played by Martin McCann), known as the survivalist and dressed appropriately for the terrain, lives in his own cabin in the woods, doing what he needs to do in order to make it through another day. His routine consists of setting bear traps, collecting firewood, and killing and burying interlopers after going through their pockets. He tends to his small parcel of crops and berries in his garden, fertilised with the corpses. But suddenly his world is turned upside down when Kathryn (Olwen Fouéré) and Milja (Mia Goth), her teenage daughter, blunder onto his property looking for food. The elder one, a mysterious and suspicious woman, suggests that her daughter spend the night with the man in exchange for provisions and shelter. Torn between whether to simply kill them or keep them around and share his crops, the survivalist has to make a choice in this post-apocalyptic world where people are ready and willing to use any means of survival in order to avoid dying from starvation.
Stephen Fingleton's debut feature, The Survivalist [+see also:
film profile], follows his short film SLR (2013),which went on to win Best Irish Short at the Foyle Film Festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award, and Magpie (2014), a similarly dreary story about nameless characters battling to survive in an environment in which oil dependency and plummeting food supplies have created a cutthroat world that is nearly impossible to live in. After winning an award at the Tribeca Film Festival for Best New Narrative Director – Special Jury Mention, where it also had its world premiere, this provocative, foreboding thriller is screening in the obscure and twisted Twilight Zone section of this year’s Stockholm Film Festival.
Recently, dystopian movies seem to have been one of the current fads in film, especially those aimed at the teenage market, with which they have proven to be an incredible box-office success, generating a plethora of similar offshoots. Nevertheless, by going beyond the themes relating to the speculative and those that are, to some extent, part of the science-fiction genre, The Survivalist focuses on a minimalist tale of three characters in a reduced world, which is as real as it gets. There is no musical score, other than what the characters themselves create, and the silences speak volumes about what they have seen and endured; furthermore, the first section of the film contains no dialogue, giving everything a claustrophobic, traumatising feel. Depicting in detail how horrific and brutal this reality would be makes the viewer instantly feel the same threat that the survivalist feels. Fingleton highlights the way the silent, intensely vulnerable hero anxiously searches the edges of the frame for any signs of trouble, conveying a suspenseful sensation of paranoia. In addition, the deserted wilderness where dirt and muck cover almost everything physically and emotionally drags the viewer into an infernal cycle, in which all kinds of threats, violence and sexual trades are permitted.