The Survivalist film review by Paul Risker
Following in the footsteps of Hsiang Chienn’s part silent film Exit (2015), Stephen Fingleton’s The Survivalist exudes a confidence in the silence of pictorial melody and performance to redefine silent cinema for the contemporary age.
In the midst of an apocalyptic reality The Survivalist centres on the secluded existence of one man (Martin McCann), whose isolation is shattered at the arrival of an older and a younger woman (Olwen Fouéré and Mia Goth).
Following their arrival the story unfolds with an emphasis on the lingering memory of a past death, and the nurturing versus destructive human tendencies as three characters form a dramatic social microcosm.
The aesthetic of The Survivalist announces itself loudly, opening with a dance between sound and the pictorial. Void of dialogue the only sounds are of movement, emphasising the language of natural and domestic sounds. As conflict is an essential ingredient to any narrative, so it follows that an absolute introverted and isolated existence must be shattered. This disruption comes in the form of two women that usher in the sound of the human voice. Rather than describing these opening scenes as enjoyable, they are aesthetically pleasurable, which offers an alternative type of pleasure to narrative satisfaction. In hindsight the opening scenes before the first pulsing sound of the human voice are more of a necessity to emphasize seclusion, and Fingleton’s understanding is how the sound of the human voice or collection of human voices creates a movement towards an extroverted world.
The early image of a body being dragged through the leaves is an effective touch that serves as a constant flickering flame of suspense. Likewise, the immediate arrival of the two female strangers raises the problematic question of what we should comprehend as the rational fear, either his paranoia of the two women, or he himself as the one posing the true threat.
In The Survivalist the past of the characters tends to range from a non-existent to an ambiguous one, in part because Fingleton’s interest is in concentrating on a small stage within the apocalyptic world. And upon the intimacy of this stage the film explores the nature of the human being, man and woman as needing not just nourishment through food, but also the more raw physical survival instincts, of which the sexual are intertwined. In Fingleton’s story sex offers an opportunity to survive and beyond that can be seen as a bargaining commercial device within the formation and inclusion into an occupied space. One of the central themes of the film is the natural order for humans to seek out other humans, in the shadow of which lies a more introverted and individualistic side to this natural order. Yet as we watch these three interpersonal relationships unfold, we are aware of the propensity for human nature to either destroy or nourish.
Fingleton offers a story of survival that touches upon the past as a haunting presence, the nature of human relationships and forged bonds as being susceptible to change and the certainty or preservation of a cycle of life and death. Yet one can sense a lightness of touch, Fingleton disinterested in discovering something groundbreaking within these themes or the interpersonal drama. Rather he scatters them like seeds and trusts that a film literate audience will see the richness beneath the surface of his drama.
The decision to minimise the incorporation of verbal language alone defines The Survivalist as a bold vision for a first time feature director. It is a film in which the creative ego dissipates and we catch a glimpse of a young filmmaker embracing collaboration. While the aesthetic style is a forceful presence on the film, silence requires Fingleton to place his fate in the hands of his actors – to trust in their physical performances. The Survivalist offers an opportunity for reflection on the flexibility of both words and silence as the building blocks to construct a narrative, and the extent to which a storyteller and audience can communicate through silent storytelling.
The Survivalist is in cinemas and On Demand 12th February 2016.
The Survivalist film review by Paul Risker