Directed by Stephen Fingleton. Starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Olwen Fouere.
THE PLOT: After the world’s oil production dips and the population continues to expand, a man (Martin McCann) lives off a small plot of land hidden deep in the forest. When Kathyrn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) find his hideout and offer to trade for food, an uneasy alliance springs up between them. It is not long, however, before this peace is shattered by shifting loyalties and a lack of food.
THE VERDICT:’ The Survivalist’ marks the feature debut for established short filmmaker Stephen Fingleton. The film is set at an undetermined future point, where food is rare and the need to survive has turned mankind against each other. Although there are hints that this film takes place somewhere in Northern Ireland – where it was shot – one of the strengths of ‘The Survivalist’ is the fact that it could be set anywhere in the world.
Martin McCann leads the cast as the solitary man, farming the land and trying to survive in an isolated cabin in the woods. When first we meet this man, he is burying a body; giving us the feel that this is a man who is willing to go to extreme lengths in order to stay alive. Dialogue is minimal in ‘The Survivalist’, and McCann certainly adheres to this idea of cinematic silence, but although there is not a lot of conversation in the film, there is plenty of communication, and McCann easily broadcasts his thoughts and fears to the audience.
Olwen Fouere plays the over bearing mother of the obviously teenage Milja and again, she has learned that survival in this new world is down to doing what needs to be done for the sake of her daughter. Fouere is formidable in her role, and makes the character feel as though she is consistently on a knife edge, waiting to spring. Mia Goth makes Milja go through the most remarkable transformation in the film; at first literally standing in her mother’s shadow, it soon becomes clear that this girl is the one who actually holds the power in this three way relationship, and it is her loyalties that decide the fate of the others.
Stephen Fingleton’s screenplay for ‘The Survivalist’ must have been only a couple of pages long, dialogue is so short on the ground here, but the silence and the new way of communication that grows up between the characters ensures that the audience is never left wondering as to motivation. Back-stories are hinted at just enough to keep the film moving, but this is not a story about the past.
As director, Fingleton allows the tension of the film to ebb and flow, as trust and loyalties change from scene to scene. Just as it seems the film has lost momentum, something else goes wrong; wrong enough to keep the story moving and allowing the audience to learn a little more about the characters we are spending time with. The film is beautifully shot by Damien Elliott, in a way that shows the contrast between the inside and the outside, between life and death. Although the opening explanation as to just how humanity became so doomed feels a little out of place with the rest of the film.
In all, ‘The Survivalist’ is a lean, atmospheric and superbly acted thriller from first time director Stephen Fingleton. The pacing allows tension to build, the cinematography is beautiful and the story just enough to keep the audience enthralled. If only that infographic at the start of the film had been cut.
RATING: 4.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Survivalist
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.5Lean & atmospheric
  • filmbuff2011

    The Survivalist is a distinctive second feature from Northern Irish director Stephen Fingleton. It recalls the likes of The Road and the 1985 New Zealand film The Quiet Earth, in which a man finds himself alone in a desolate, hostile world.

    The human race is dying out, due to a lack of food. A Survivalist (Martin McCann) lives out a quiet, grim but determined existence in the forest. The most precious resource around are his seeds, so he tends carefully to his crops. For seven years, he carries out his daily routines and keeps himself alive. That is, until one day two women show up – Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth). They’re desperate for food, but the Survivalist is highly suspicious of them and their intentions. He holds a shotgun to them at all times. He begrudgingly allows them to eat and stay the night, in exchange for sex with Milja. When the time comes for them to leave, Milja convinces him to let them stay. A connection has been formed between the lonely Survivalist and the desperate Milja. But the Survivalist’s very existence may be under threat from these new presences in his isolated world…

    Nominated for an outstanding debut BAFTA, The Survivalist is certainly an interesting film with an intriguing premise. It takes a very bleak view of human nature and strips it down to the bare essentials as to what we need to survive – food, water, light, human contact. There’s a constant air of threat throughout the film, as an uneasy alliance forms between the Survivalist and these two women. Violence could happen at any moment, but is actually kept to a minimum. It’s more of a mood piece, where the characters say very little – only what’s absolutely necessary to move the plot along. While that’s admirable from a cinematic perspective, it’s also frustrating from a narrative perspective. The whole script must have been only a few pages long or maybe this one was one of the films that was created more on the set than on the page. Sometimes, this reviewer wished the characters would just speak and communicate with each other, rather than glower and try to communicate with their expressions. It’s a bit oddball in that sense – like the atrocious Kim Ki-Duk film Moebius. However, there’s still lots to admire here.

    McCann, one of Northern Ireland’s most talented actors, gives a very raw, primal performance. His character is a man of few words but great impact. If anyone can weaken a man’s resolve, then it’s a woman. He’s equally matched by the eye-catching Goth, last seen in Everest and Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Fingleton directs with an iron grip on the story, which he also wrote. It’s quite a realistic scenario, rather than a post-apocalyptic scenario that it might otherwise have been. While it seems to have got a lot of critical acclaim, this reviewer has mixed feelings about The Survivalist. While it’s slow, unrelentingly bleak and ponderous at times, it’s always interesting and well-acted. Good, but not quite great. ***

  • emerb

    Derry – born writer and director Stephen Fingleton brings us his first feature length film, “The Survivalist”, a post-apocalyptic thriller which is set in the near future, after civilization has ended. As the opening credits roll, we see a graph of two lines curving upwards which represent oil consumption and global population growth across the decades. Once the resources start to plummet, the population quickly starts to diminish too. We don’t get any further detail about the disaster
    that has occurred but we do see what remains. Rather than barren wastelands
    or crumbling cities, the setting for “The Survivalist” is the green fields and dense forests somewhere in Ireland where our unnamed protagonist (Martin McCann) lives out his solitary existence in a sparsely furnished, heavily protected and secluded cabin. He is a sullen, bearded man who leads a very basic life guarding his surroundings – he washes, keeps the fire lit, prepares his food in a makeshift garden but everything is done with an ever-watchful eye and with a gun close by.

    One day, an unknown stern mother (Olwen Fouere) and her teenage daughter (Mia Goth) arrive at the cabin offering sex in return for food and shelter. Initially wary and hostile, he is convinced to lower his gun and bargain with them. What was meant to be one night is extended and so begins an uneasy, tense and unsteady set of alliances that forms the basis of the film. Dialogue is sparse (there are no words for the first 20 minutes of the film), there is no trust on either side, suspicions are ever present and the dwindling food supplies are a constant
    worry. As time passes, the young girl simultaneously develops feelings for her new bed partner while her mother harbours treacherous plans to overtake the property. In the absence of a musical score, the character’s silences create the constant sense of dread and foreboding, we are unsure what will happen, who will make the next move and where the uneasy triangle of relationships will end. Their routine is disrupted with threats from an outside gang and this encourages the trio to eventually work together. While we don’t get much in the way of violence, savagery and outright fighting, we do see how vulnerable this cabin in the woods really is – survival can only last so long in isolation.

    Bearing many similarities to “The Road”, this is not an easy film to watch, it is bleak and cheerless and lacking in warmth. We don’t get a backstory for the characters and their fierce and melancholic demeanors mean that, at times, we find it hard to relate to their plight. I suspect it won’t be on the “must see” list for many viewers but it has commanded much attention at a number of film festivals
    as an excellent depiction of survival in the midst of doom. “The Survivalist”
    is a highly original film with a very simple tale, the performances are remarkably good, the photography is excellent and the tension is tingling. We feel like we are watching the last 3 people on the planet as they battle each day alone – highly recommended. Fingleton is a director worth watching out for.