by / February 11th, 2016 /

The Survivalist

Review by on February 11th, 2016

 5/5 Rating

Director: Stephen Fingleton 
Cast: Martin McCann, Mia Goth and Andrew Simpson
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 103 minutes
Release Date: February 12th

The survival of civilization is based on the collective strength of a series of vital, but ephemeral pillars, each of which holds up one specific part of society, and each, which helps support the other in carrying its load. If one cracks and collapses, the others will undoubtedly follow suit. Inevitably each pillar will need a replacement at some stage down the line, so substitutes are equally as crucial, and must be inserted before, and not after the weakening pillar gives way. Failure to accept, or acknowledge this cycle is dangerous, as it could spell the total collapse of civil society, as it may lead to a regress into days more primal.

This idea forms the premise of The Survivalist, the directorial debut of Derry-born Stephen Fingleton. An anti-science fictional dystopian vision, the work looks at the potential barbarism of future generations whose lives have been rendered as such by our over-reliance on oil, and the skyrocketing of the Earth’s population after the end of the Industrial Revolution in 1840.

Taking place at some point in the mid-to-latter part of our century, it is a hypothetical story, which wants us to consider the destructive aspects of our nature. Stark from the outset, the audience is not gradually introduced to this possible world, but rather, thrown straight into the cold water, where first we see a partially naked man being dragged through mud for burial. The reasons why he is dead are never clarified, but, what becomes evident is that the killer’s justification may be something as miniscule as trespassing.

The central figure of the story, this killer has no name, no warmth and no certain future. Head shaved to imitate a tribal warrior, his only resemblance to a human is in the fact that he shares our external attributes. Wandering around a forest somewhere in Ulster, he guards over a wooden cabin, in which he grows crops, armed only with a shotgun to prevent roamers from stealing these invaluable plants. Without much in the way of a single word uttered during the opening fifteen minutes, and few thereafter, he occupies a world that merges The Walking Dead sans zombies, with the bleak isolation and twisted sexuality of a Kim Ki-duk film.

The sole purpose of this man is to survive, and by committing to this means of self-preservation, he has decided, or accepted that humankind itself is his greatest threat. Like him, they will probably kill to stay alive too. Hence, we are treated to a distant Ulster, which has evolved into a crueller, more nihilistic version of Battle Royale, without any rules, or a time limit.

Yet, his extreme individualism is tested when he is encountered by a mother and daughter, whose request for food and shelter creates a dilemma. Does he let them in, or does he stick to his guns and steer clear of the world? Opting for the latter, he caves when the mother offers the daughter as a sexual bargaining chip in exchange for any favours, however slight. With arguably one of the grimmest lines in cinematic history, the mother telling him, “don’t come inside her”, this first act accelerates the sense of hopeless desperation that defines the successive two.

Gruesome, and extraordinarily slow-burning, this Harold Pinter meets JG Ballard tale can test even the most hardened cinemagoer, since Fingleton confronts us with his unsettling ideas, both in tangible and psychological ways. Extremely in your face, this is a wholly unpleasant trip. Yet, by being so ghastly, it can be argued that he is succeeding in conveying his message. Furthermore, with patience, a viewer will be able to detect that this is not merely a cynic bashing us, arguing that we are beyond redemption. Beneath the surface, there is hope, hope that we fight for community, and hope that we will not allow one change to alter our attitudes towards the world.