The Survivalist (2021) Review
Set 592 days after the outbreak of COVID 19’s Delta Variant, The Survivalist is the latest film from director Jon Keeyes (Doom Room, The Harrowing). Working from a script by Matthew Rogers and reuniting with John Malkovich, who was in his last film Rogue Hostage, Keeyes is taking on the end of the world.
Sarah (Ruby Modine, Satanic Panic, Happy Death Day) and her brother Guy (Tom Pecinka, American Rust) are on the run, heading for a farm owned by Ben (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Yakuza Princess, The 12th Man) who was his mentor in the FBI. Who are they on the run from? That would be Aaron (John Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile), the only man known to have recovered from the virus. He now has a major Messiah Complex and is looking for Sarah because she seems to be immune from it. He plans to use her to breed a new strain of virus-resistant humans, but her plans are irrelevant.
The Survivalist certainly sounds like any number of post-apocalyptic action films. And for the most part, it is. You’ve probably already guessed that Guy dies early in the film, leaving Sarah and the rather reluctant Ben to fight off Aaron and his disciples. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that, except The Survivalist doesn’t have the incredible action scenes of something like Mad Max or the trashy flair of its Italian knock-offs like 2019: After the Fall of New York or Exterminators of the Year 3000.
What we get is a lot of anguished flashbacks to conversations between Ben and his late father, a compulsive gambler with whom he clashed over using the little money they had left to fortify the farm. At least a third of the film is devoted to this family drama. It is at least somewhat connected to the main story as, pre-pandemic, Aaron was one of the leg breakers sent to collect on the old man’s debts.
Instead of the action, we’re promised, The Survivalist delivers a lot of talk and angst and a nihilistic twist in the last act. Even the poster’s claim that Ben is “An ordinary guy with an extraordinary arsenal” is bullshit. All anyone has in this film are basic rifles and handguns, and very few bullets for them.
That still could have worked as a martial arts film, the shortage of ammunition being a justification for all the hand-to-hand action. But since Aaron only has a handful of followers, we get a lot of wandering around in the dark with occasional fights and shootings padded out with dialogue. I was hoping for a good fight between Ben and Danny (Simon Phillips, Surviving the Game, Butchers) but The Survivalist can’t even pull that off right.
As expected, Malkovich only has a handful of scenes, mostly at the beginning and end of the film. Maybe more surprising, Ruby, daughter of Matthew, Modine is barely in the film either. Sarah spends much of The Survivalist either passed out or in hiding, which leaves Meyers to carry most of the film. But with a bland character like Ben, that isn’t an easy task.
While it’s not the worst end-of-the-world film out there, The Survivalist still isn’t good enough to give a thumbs up. There’s not enough action to fight off boredom, and the flashbacks aren’t dramatic enough to hold anyone’s attention. And, as bad as Delta has been, the fact that I’m writing this makes using it as the downfall of civilization a bad, at times laughably so, idea.
The Survivalist is in limited theatrical release and available on VOD platforms from Quiver Distribution.