After the fall of civilisation, a hermit (Martin McCann) lives in a shack in the woods and works a tiny vegetable patch. Two women - Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) – approach and beg to share his farm. An uneasy new family is formed, but there are dangerous ravagers nearby.
In this grim, intensely physical post-apocalyptic vision, writer-director Stephen Fingleton pares down dialogue to show how much has been lost with the end of civilisation. Even the range of expression is limited – there’s not even a hint of a smile throughout – to show how reduced the lives of its characters are.
The Survivalist is unsparing about what the details of life after the loss of all modern amenities might mean.
Martin McCann’s Survivalist, with a Dark Ages DIY hairdo and a face taut with post-traumatic paranoia, is a psychologically credible Mad Max, who is coaxed out of his isolation but never entirely trusts his new shack-mates. Given that the tough, bitter older Kathryn (Olwn Fouere) pimps out her supposed daughter (Mia Goth) in exchange for vegetables and never stops thinking of ways to kill their host, the Survivalist’s jittery suspicion isn’t even unjustified. The small family is as likely to tear itself apart through horribly practical violence as it is to be destroyed by the formless evils which inhabit the deep dark woods beyond their clearing.
The Survivalist is unsparing about what the details of life after the loss of all modern amenities might mean – from rinsing sanitary towels in a stream for reuse and burying bodies in compost heaps to help along the crops to tough surgery that involves fishing out bullets with a stanley knife, cauterisation without anaesthetic and pouring maggots over wounds to eat away the rotting flesh.
There’s a contrast between the still, calm beauties of the woods and the hard-scrabble of getting a living from the land, but Fingleton occasionally throws in cinematic flourishes, like a stunning crane shot that rises above a field of long grass to show antagonists quivering before a fight in their own flattened patches.
This is a harsh, unsentimental science fiction film, though the performances suggest small surviving flames of empathy and yearning amid the tough, practical attitudes.