The Survivalist is a 2021 siege survival thriller that follows on from the events of a global disaster. Apocalyptic survival films are two a penny nowadays and I’m afraid that aside from a decent cast and cinematography, The Survivalist doesn’t really add anything new to the genre.
The film follows events in the USA a year and a half after civilisation fell due to the outbreak of a virus. The virus has no cure and has killed a large proportion of the population, many of whom have fled to hospital camps for treatment. Rumours spread by a pirate radio station indicate that a man may have recovered from the virus, and that man is Aaron (John Malkovich). Aaron believes he is on a mission from God, and alongside a group of followers, including second in command Marley (Jenna Leigh Green), is on the hunt for a young woman, Sarah (Ruby Modine), who he believes is immune to the virus and their hope for repopulating the world.
Sarah has been on the run with her brother, who told her to find an old friend of his, Ben, who would protect her. After her brother’s death at the hands of Aaron and his gang, Sarah flees across the country to find his friend. Ben (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is a retired FBI agent living on a farm owned by his family and previously tended to by his father. Following the death of his father, Ben lives there alone and is stocked up and armed to survive through the outbreak. Through flashbacks, we see glimpses of Ben’s relationship with his father including their arguments about the future of the farm which was struggling well before the outbreak hit.
As Sarah arrives at the farm, Ben is forced to use all of his arsenal and FBI skills to protect her from Aaron and his posse. They lay siege to the farm and eventually infiltrate the buildings themselves, where Ben discovers truths about Sarah that could completely alter his future and Aaron’s plans for repopulating the human race, all the while trying to stop the destruction of his family’s property.
The Survivalist starts off fairly well, with clips of derelict landscapes and towns paired with a voiceover from the presenter of the pirate radio station, giving us a brief yet informative account of the plot. It also has a rather pale and greyscale tone that fits in well with the apocalyptic, global disaster plot – it looks as bleak as the story is meant to be. It also has a good cast; I haven’t seen Jonathan Rhys Meyers in a film for quite some time and he puts in a good performance here. John Malkovich is, well, just being John Malkovich, putting in the same performance he has in everything else he’s been in.
Unfortunately though, the cinematography and cast can’t push this film into something more memorable as the plot is pretty tired and predictable. A lone person who can potentially save civilisation from downfall is something we’ve seen before countless times, the only new thing this film brings is that the viral outbreak is actually due to COVID-19. Had I known this in advance I may have been more hesitant about watching this film as while hopefully the worst of coronavirus has now passed, the virus is still a little too fresh in my mind to be making a film about it where the outbreak could have had much more apocalyptic consequences. The references to COVID-19 don’t appear to be in the synopsis of this film and I can see why as it’s far too soon to be making a film on this subject.
Also, this is a siege film and is set in virtually one location. While the location looks good, I feel that to pull off a siege film and make it anything above average, the script, the action, the character development all have to be excellent. And here that just isn’t the case. Everything on offer here is okay – there’s nothing particularly dodgy about the script, for the most part, the violence and action are decent and Ben’s character is fairly well developed at least – but this needed a lot more to make it memorable. The done to death subject matter of a global disaster didn’t exactly help either. Overall, The Survivalist is a watchable film and an okay take on the genre, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough to make it memorable.
Signature Entertainment presents The Survivalist on Digital Platforms 11th October
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!