By: John M Jerva
It’s funny how Hollywood takes present day issues and turns them into entertainment for the masses and once again, we have a dystopian actioner where the dreaded COVID virus has ravaged the world to the brink of extinction. Thank the lord art doesn’t imitate life here as even though we’ve had a lot to deal with, the people in this movie have it way worse. Is it too soon to make a movie where a virus of the dame name has decimated the Earth?
The film in question is called The Survivalist and it stars two heavyweights in John Malkovich and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as two combatants who must fight the virus and each other for the possession of a special woman who might be immune to the disease and just might be the key to saving the world.
As The Survivalist opens up, we see Guy (Tom Pecinka) who is trying to lead the prized possession in his sister Sarah (Ruby Modine) to safety only to get ambushed by a group of marauders led by the maniacal Aaron (Malkovich). It seems that Aaron is quite aware that Sarah is the key to survival and unfortunately Guy is fatally shot in the altercation. Before he dies though, he tells Sarah to find someone named Ben.
Meyers stars as Ben who is trying to live a quiet life on his family’s ranch and is still reeling from the death of his father Heath played by Julian Sands. Ben and Heath were at odds with each other due to Heath’s gambling addiction but he was still his dad.
Ben’s tranquil existence in a world gone mad is shattered as Sarah descends upon him as well as Aaron and his ruthless team who have been tracking her and now a deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as Ben takes it upon himself to protect Sarah and his home from the invading group of cutthroats.
While watching The Survivalist, I couldn’t help but think of JCVD’s classic 80’s action film Cyborg as the plot is very similar. We have a virus ravaged world with one woman who holds the key to salvation and the lone hero who reluctantly agrees to fight for her against one man who thinks he’s a messiah and his marauding band of killers. Think of Ben as Gibson Rickenbacker and Malkovich as Fender Tremelo and you’ve got the idea.
The strength with this film however is the performances of our two leads in Meyers and Malkovich who are usually solid in anything they do. Meyers has also recently been seen in Yakuza Princess where he demonstrated some superb action chops and here he gets to do some more of that here although he’s more human and less formidable.
Malkovich is just one of those rare actors who automatically elevates anything that he’s in. He can be in the worst film and still be the best part about it and here he brings his gravitas to the villainous role of Aaron. He clearly thinks that he’s some sort of a god and the one to save us all and he doesn’t care who he has to run over to do it.
Director Jon Keeyes does the best with what budget he has and he knows the strength of the movie lies with his two stars. You can tell that this movie about the pandemic was shot during the pandemic as the cast is limited and the locale is barren. This adds a sense of taut and claustrophobic theatrics though as there aren’t many people in the film to get attached to.
We are treated to flashbacks that show Ben and his father Heath together and while they give more layers to Ben’s character, they interrupt the proceedings and brings things to a standstill. It throws the pacing off big time and the audience has to restart their engines once it switches back to present day.
The action is decent although not memorable but there is constant shooting and running as Ben tries his best to stay alive and keep his new found companion breathing. There is a lot of tension with Ben trying to stay one step ahead as he was in the FBI but he wasn’t a field agent so he’s not exactly built for a fight. As he puts it, his job was to help people read maps.
The finale is more low key and it consists of the inevitable confrontation between Ben and Aaron and a twist in the plot that has been revealed earlier. I won’t spoil it but it makes the ending a little more grim and somber.
Overall, The Survivalist wears its presence on its sleeve. It’s not a happy movie and in fact there’s no humor in it whatsoever. It’s scary to think that a virus could do something like what happens in the film in real life. Be thankful that life is still somewhat normal because this could be the bleak, stark alternative.
Meyers and Malkovich play their roles without missing a beat and there is enough action and tension to keep audiences engrossed through the brief 90 minute run time. The cover art would lead you to believe that the movie is more over the top but that’s a lie as it’s more thriller and simple. Just be prepared to watch a comedy afterwards. It’ll make you feel better after watching this solemn affair.