Cut from the same cloth as The Road (the wait for a cheery post-apocalyptic film goes on), The Survivalist is just as bleak if not bleaker than that adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel. Derry native Stephen Fingleton’s debut looks for but finds little warmth in human nature.
Martin McCann is the eponymous survivor, scrounging around an unnamed part of Northern Ireland after an undisclosed economic disaster has all but rid the planet of its population. Food is in short supply and McCann has turned to growing his own, with a makeshift garden outside his fortified shack. Forever alert, he hardly sleeps, his ears tuned to any unfamiliar noise coming from the surrounding woods. One day a starving woman (Fouere) and her teenage daughter (Goth) come asking for help, the woman offering her daughter in exchange for room and board. What is supposed to be one night soon is extended as the cagey McCann slowly warms to the girl but this intrusion is also a distraction and there isn’t enough food for three indefinitely…
If McCann’s character has little to work with in this stark new world, writer-director Fingleton is just as economic with the writing. Not a word of dialogue is spoken for the first fifteen minutes as McCann shuffles about, dragging dead bodies to compost heaps, watering his vegetables, masturbating over soiled pictures of women who (presumably) are long dead. It’s sparse storytelling, with little to go on apart from a credit sequence of a black screen and two lines on a graph (oil, population) first spiking, and then plummeting. It’s up to the audience to fill in the blanks. Even when the Goth and Fouere turn up, Fingleton keeps the dialogue to the absolute minimal:
Goth: What happened to your brother?
McCann: He got careless.
And that’s indicative of every conversation. But no matter how well-crafted his characters are, or how confident the story-telling is, Fingleton needs three actors to give the almost-wordless action emotional resonance and he must thank the stars for his three leads. McCann (Occi Byrne, Killing Bono, 71), one of the most underrated actors around today, is once again terrific. Tightly wound and eyes darting like a paranoid wildebeest, McCann’s performance is an edgy and memorable one. While fearful of McCann’s shotgun, which is mostly pointed at her head throughout, Olwen Fouere has to juggle terror and a faux calm, and in the middle is Goth, watching both, loyal to both, but only until the time comes where she has to pick a side.
Make no bones about it Stephen Fingleton is a major new talent.