Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: The Survivalist

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Deirdre Molumby finds herself in a post-apocalyptic world in The Survivalist, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

On introducing this film, Programmer for the Galway Film Fleadh Gar O’Brien emphasised how the Fleadh nurtures talent. They help directors make the transition from shorts to features through the screening and promotion of Irish filmmakers’ work. So has been the case for Stephen Fingleton, whose debut feature The Survivalist follows his award-winning short SLR and Magpie. Indeed, the feature is set in the same post-apocalyptic world of the latter short in which oil dependency and food supplies plummeting create a cut-throat world that is nearly impossible to survive in. Like Magpie, The Survivalist takes place in an ambient forest which is luscious in its green colour yet haunted by death.

A young man’s body is buried in the woods by a mysterious figure in a thick green anorak. We follow the figure to the cabin in which he lives and intrigue continues to grow as we see his everyday means of living. The film evokes much Western iconography in its initial focus on the lone hero, his wooden cabin, the referencing of The Searchers in alluding to its famous doorway shot, and the deserted wilderness setting that surrounds the Survivalist. This first section of the film contains no dialogue and Martin McCann (My Boy Jack, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne) is subtle and assured in his performance of the leading unnamed character. Our hero is efficient at making fires and growing food, even using his own bodily fluids so nothing goes to waste. However, he is lonely and constantly fearful as can be seen when he anxiously looks around him while he hastily washes some distance from his cabin retreat.

The film’s universe is characterised by paranoia, which continues when two women come to the Survivalist for help. The older, mystifying Kathryn (Olwen Fouere – The Other Side of Sleep, This Must Be the Place), offers her teenage daughter, the quiet but tough Milja (Mia Goth – Magpie, Nymphomaniac: Vol. II), to spend the night with him in exchange for food and shelter. They gradually become accepted into the Survivalist’s cabin and his way of life but the women plot to get rid of him so that they can have his crops for themselves, and there are further dangers in store for all three.

Fingleton, who also wrote the script, paints a brutal landscape of hardship and violence. Without giving too much away, its stand-out scene takes place in the rushes when the Survivalist goes in search for Milja, who is missing. Damien Elliott’s cinematography captures a gripping moment and will have you holding your breath in anticipation.

The Survivalist is a raw film and fairly difficult to watch at times. The graphic imagery includes full frontal (male and female) nudity, rotting flesh, maggots, masturbation, periods, and bloody internal organs. It is one of the more original post-apocalyptic films to be released as of late and is a curiously thought-provoking at that, but its bleakness will not appeal to all audiences. Having already won an award at Tribeca for Best New Narrative Director – Special Jury Mention, this provocative film is well suited to the festival circuit.

 

The Survivalist screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

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