Originally published on We Are Colony.
In The Survivalist, BAFTA-nominated Stephen Fingleton creates an intensely realistic vision of a post-collapse world. The loss of modern luxuries and amenities force three survivors to collate all their wits and resources to avoid encroaching danger.
To celebrate its release in cinemas and on VOD, I recalled six other films that pit their protagonists against extreme circumstances and make you more than glad to be inside watching them…
Mad Max: Fury Road (DIR. George Miller, 2015)
A post-apocalyptic movie on steroids, Mad Max is arguably last year’s most talked about film. Where The Survivalist is sparse and introspective, Fury Road is a ferocious whirlwind of CGI spectacle. Still, there’s a reason Indiewire labeled Fingleton’s debut “Mad Max in the countryside”. Each bring a vivid sense of detail to the ‘end of the world’ scenarios they have created to startling effect.
“The Survivalist revels in the muddy minutiae of a post-collapse environment.”
Snowpiercer (DIR. Bong Joon-ho, 2013)
Set on a train trapped in an infinite loop around a frozen planet, the world’s dwindling resources inspire a group of ‘third class’ passengers – among them Captain America (Chris Evans), Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) and the Elephant Man (John Hurt) – to overthrow the oligarchs that power the engine.
Refreshingly different in its take on disaster, Snowpiercer is an absurdist piece of cinema. Visually it might not have much in common with The Survivalist, which revels in the muddy minutiae of a post-collapse environment, but it’s a stellar example of how to inject a bit of humour into what’s typically a sombre genre.
Equal parts suspense and horror, Snowpiercer is contemplative yet entertaining and where both films excel is in their ability to tell an expansive story in a small space.
The Road (DIR. John Hillcoat, 2009)
Speaking of sombre, John Hillcoat’s The Road is the often held up as a litmus test against which apocalyptic films are inevitably compared. As Viggo Mortensen shepherds Kodi Smit-McPhee across a ravaged, cannibalized America, it’s hard to recall a film that has so frighteningly depicted austerity.
The result is something remarkable and haunting, but which, at times, feels excessive. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s elegiac score orchestrates certain moments to detrimental effect and there are sequences where silence alone could be more fitting. The Coen brothers, in their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, left the soundtrack devoid of music, a choice which subsequently maximizes tension.
Indeed, where The Survivalist is most effective is in its absence of music; when pregnant silences and the threat that fills them, linger.
“Cuarón and Fingleton exhibit a flare for kinetic filmmaking, utilising tracking shots to explore a primitive landscape with poetic flourish”.
Children Of Men (DIR. Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
The world is a battleground in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men and Clive Owen must act as bodyguard to society’s last hope at regeneration. Now twice Oscar-anointed, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki demonstrates striking visual prowess. His recreation of a war-torn dystopia, where characters live in perpetual fear of being struck by a bullet or a bomb is astounding.
The Survivalist employs a similar aesthetic of dirt and drizzle, and both embrace a costume and production design that feels chillingly plausible. Likewise, Cuarón and Fingleton exhibit a flare for kinetic filmmaking, utilizing tracking shots to explore a primitive landscape with poetic flourish.
The Rover (DIR. David Michôd, 2014)
Australian director David Michod’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom sees Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce exchanging blows against the backdrop of a desolate, dystopian society.
Perhaps most similar to The Survivalist, what separates both these films from the lesser iterations of their genre is the focus on the human condition as opposed to the context. The reasons for economic and societal collapse are for the foremost left a mystery, and in a world where supplies and a sense of order are scarce, The Rover and The Survivalist question what’s left of mankind when civilization and its organizing principles disappear.
“An immersive, intimate experience against the backdrop of a sublime and primal landscape”.
The Revenant (DIR. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2015)
The film that might finally secure Leonardo DiCaprio his long awaited Oscar, sees him take on a bear, a perilous journey and a Tom Hardy with an agenda. To say it’s deserving is an understatement.
Whilst The Survivalist’s scale might be smaller, both films test the endurance of their protagonists as they are confronted by punishing situations that push their bodies and psychological strength to the limit. In a world that is as exquisitely beautiful as it is brutal, the imminence of death seems omnipresent.
With little dialogue, our only window into the pain that DiCaprio’s vengeful frontiersman Hugh Glass suffers is the nuance of his performance and he more than delivers. In The Survivalist, Irish actor Martin McCann likewise has to experience the woes of maggots and using fire to self-heal, though he’s spared the grizzly encounter. In each film, the result is an immersive, intimate experience against the backdrop a sublime and primal landscape.
The Survivalist, alongside two exclusive short films, is now available on We Are Colony with behind-the-scenes extras: http://www.wearecolony.com/the-survivalist