When it was discovered that oil could be used for a variety of purposes, the drilling and manufacturing of oil products became a huge business concern, and the population of Planet Earth grew accordingly. But once the oil began to run out, society started to break down as there was nothing to take its place, therefore the population dwindled until we are at the point we have arrived now where the last vestiges of humanity fight one another for whatever food they can muster, either living as loners or grouping together in gangs. One thing was for sure, it was every man and woman for themselves as one individual (Martin McCann) was all too aware of as he has lost his brother and now must fend for himself...
The genre of post-apocalypse movies continued unabated into the twenty-first century with examples both big budget and small; The Survivalist was one of the smaller ones, very small in fact with most of the action focused on a cabin in the woods (actually filmed in Northern Ireland) where our unnamed hero goes about his business. There was no dialogue for the first fifteen minutes at least as the lead was shown doing his requisite surviving, growing what crops he could to provide at least a little food for himself, which is why when two more people appear in his life it results in a dilemma for him. He is lonely, especially for female company, but the fact remains it is very difficult to trust anybody.
The two women who show up at his door claim to be mother and daughter, though since they don't look much like one another we can perhaps take that with a pinch of salt. That said, we can surmise that the older lady, Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) has been looking after the teenage girl Milja (Mia Goth) for some time, probably ever since she was a child, yet even then is not above using her to get what she wants when she offers Milja to the man for sexual favours in return for food, or even some of his crops. Holding them at gunpoint, he is understandably wary, but does not turn them away, an act that either speaks to a still small spark of human kindness in him or possibly an instance of his innate stupidity.
But then, if the people we do see could think up a method of pooling their resources and coming up with a plan for the future, then they would not be in this mess, making the film a cautionary tale of sorts. Although on the face of it The Survivalist had the same premise as the groundbreaking Mad Max, director and writer Stephen Fingleton was not interested in staging action sequences, though there were occasional bursts of violence as the remaining populace fight over whatever they hold dear, but as if it was necessary to state there was precious little fuel left so nobody would be driving around in cars or trucks anyway. This leaned more heavily on drama, weighing up the realities of the situation and trying to work out what would be the most likely scenario should society break back down to the Stone Age.
It hardly needed saying, but this was a grim experience, with the characters' aggressive self-interest sabotaging any moves towards anything we may take for granted such as love or humour, everything they did was borne out of necessity, that drive to keep ploughing on through life no matter what it was throwing at you, even beyond the stage that you were aware of what you were carrying on for. That sense that life goes on was not so much an instance of hope but more one of sheer bloody-mindedness, nobody here aspires to something like art or entertainment, they just keep their heads down and get on with it until someone else tries to disrupt what existence they have managed to draw together, throwing a spanner in the works that you either solve or succumb to. With such determinedly joyless scenes as the world's most depressing masturbation or an attempted abortion, not to mention brutal death lurking at every turn, Fingleton's effort was almost parodically miserable, but all credit to him he did sustain his bleak atmosphere with some skill.