The Survivalist is austere. Scrubbed clean of sentimentality. That is true of the titular character, played by Martin McCann, and of the film itself, directed by first-time feature director Stephen Fingleton with a lean and hungry edge. Set in a deromanticized post-apocalypse, The Survivalist is a paranoid chamber piece about trust, betrayal, and yes, survival in an unforgiving world where death lies certain in wait around every corner, be it murdering ravagers, the perils of nature, or the person you share a home with.
The Survivalist sets the scene with an elegant, understated graphic that tells us everything we need to know about how the world ended with a single sweeping motion: as the human population boomed, so did the production of oil — until they both came crashing down and society along with them. That’s all we get, and that’s all we need. The Survivalist has nothing to offer in the way of high-concept, world-building visions of the apocalypse and the heroes who ride them out. This film is more interested in the scraps of society; the humans who have found a way to survive years after the fall and what parts of their humanity they had to sacrifice to stay in the game.
The film introduces us to the post-apocalypse through the unpleasantries of the Survivalist’s day-to-day life. A dead body dragging through the dirt, the cold pale flesh jolting and flopping at the kick of the Survivalist’s boot. Anyone who comes on his property with demands pays in their life and he uses their corpses to fertilize his one-man farm. In between setting traps and dispatching intruders, he tends to his crops, maintains his home, and stares at the image of a blonde woman long gone. It’s dull and dreary, a stark life of flesh, dirt, bugs and blood. But it is life and he’s the one living it. Every other person he encounters is a walking threat to take that from him.
Naturally, he’s not very welcoming…