The Survivalist full movie review - Patriarchal and misanthropic
I tried hard to like this film; I really did. I actually wanted to like this film so badly. However, it was so poorly written, that I couldn't. I'm just gonna give credit to the actors who were absolutely fantastic, and the cinematography itself, which was not that shabby either.
So let me explain the title of this review:
Patriarchal: I've chosen specifically this term on account of the director mentioning, on an interview, that he deliberately tried to avoid being patriarchal in his film. He says, "Something I didn't want in my movie was the male gaze, and I learn as a male director how patriarchal our structures of seeing things are." (see full interview on BFI website)
The Survivalist couldn't have been more patriarchal if it tried. Why? Well, because women are viewed as sexual objects and cunning black widows who use sex only to get what they want from men, even if this means killing them. They don't have sexual desires of their own, they're not strong; just cunning and manipulative, using one and only weapon: their body.
Similarly, men are sex starved beings, with their only primal instinct, in such a difficult time like the one the film describes, being rape, instead of.. well, just simply eating.
Don't get me wrong; of course sex is important and basic. But it's important for both sexes. Also, when you're starving, your first instinct is going to be finding food: not raping.
At the end of the day, the film is patriarchal in perpetuating those stereotypes that have been falsely banged on and on up to now: women are only good for providing sex (not wanting sex, because they don't really, do they?), and are essentially evil; men are only good for killing and raping.
Misanthropic: Well, actually even if you don't agree with 'patriarchal', everyone will surely agree that the film is the definition of misery. A film being miserable is not necessarily bad, if there is a purpose or a catharsis, or just a meaning in this misery. However, a film being miserable just for the sake of misery? well, this strikes me as some really bad and ill-thought script writing. A basic premise of the film is that people are starving. The land, however, is fertile. The land is not charred from nuclear war, or an environmental disaster; on the contrary, it seems as green as ever. Why then, if people can cultivate the land, aren't they working together to do so and feed themselves (as they've done for centuries in the past)? And this is one of the dozen 'why's raised when you watch this film:
Why the Survivalist's brutal, long-term isolation (even if he lived with his brother), when he can surely live better among other people? Why the two women (or at least one of them) insist on killing a person who helped them, instead of working together? Even against all odds. This is where humanity shines, and this is where people make a big transition. Why gangs of men go about destroying crops, if they're so useful and precious? Why the main characters roam about silent and grim, like alien robots, without a hint of smile, a hint of being real human beings?
To cut this narrative short, why the big misery??
When I first watched the film, I truly thought it was written by a teenager. When I found out that it was actually written by an adult person, I tried to figure out the reason he wrote such an unrealistic story like this. I found two reasons:
First, it might be the director's (he happens to be the scriptwriter) bleak and distorted view of humanity. I assume this scenario is not far from the truth. On an interview, Mr. Fingleton says that he's optimistic about the future of the world, because, even if humans cease to exist, nature will carry on (you can view the interview on YouTube, under the title "The Survivalist Interview"). Here might be a man who doesn't love humans; he likes nature. He believes in nature, but not in people. It's not bad, but not necessarily true, either. And, most importantly, and sadly for him, it's people who are gonna see his work, not trees. It's people who are going to dive into his grim and hopeless vision about humanity.
Honestly, if I'm going to experience a visual work of art, such as a film, only to be convinced that humans are evil, which really is a rather naïve, black-and-white way of seeing things, then I truly can't see the point. Can you?
The second reason the film is so misanthropic might be that, simply, misanthropy and misery sell tickets. It's actually very easy to present a bleak view of the human condition. It carries a tremendous shock value and reviewers will try to find a hidden, profound meaning out of all this misery. Only, there isn't always any. The easy way to portray a post-apocalyptic world is to drench it in misery, with people killing each other, for no obvious reason, because we know that people will be better off working together (see: The Walking Dead series). The difficult way of portraying a post-apocalyptic world is finding some kind of hope and catharsis for your characters, despite the misery. Some kind of transcendence beyond the animalistic nature which we undoubtedly possess (because we don't only possess that). (see films like: The Road, Le Temps Du Loup, Snowpiercer, A Boy and His Dog, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead ? and YES, all those grim films reach the catharsis that the Survivalist never did)
I gave it a four out of ten, for the superb acting and the cinematography. And the effort of making an engaging (I'll give it that) film on a low budget.