It is a near future world of apocalyptically reduced resources; we learn of an oil crash that precipitated a population crash, and we may presume resource wars made the crashes even worse. But all we see now is a man (Martin McCann: X+Y) living alone in a rough cabin, eking out a hardscrabble living hidden deep in an Irish forest. And then his solitude is interrupted by the arrival of Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her teenaged daughter, Milja (Mia Goth: Everest), who have seeds — seeds are valuable in this world — and, er, other things to trade for food and shelter for a spell. This is a remarkable first feature from Irish director Stephen Fingleton, a stunning example of how suggestions of a much larger world can be sketched on a tiny budget and via a simple story featuring only a handful of characters. There’s not even much dialogue required: the brutal realities of this world — lacking almost all essentials from basic human trust to, you know, antibiotics — bubble up from the unspoken dynamics among these three characters, looks that shift from guarded to suspicious to aware to blissfully ignorant, and what it takes to survive often manifests in ways at first shocking and then, sometimes, cleverly practical or pragmatic yet terrible. A beautifully observed film about some very ugly human emotions and experiences, The Survivalist will force you to wonder, by the time it has ended, which of the three main characters the title actually refers to, and what survival truly means in this world.
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