It’s a clear sign Covid-19 has been around for a while that a number of films have been released that seek to explore or exploit the pandemic as a plotline. The Survivalist is not the first, but it’s a contender for the worst.
In the not-too-distant future, the virus has rampaged across the US, triggering mutation after mutation. The vaccines were presumably ineffective, with the uninfected sheltering in camps. Without a police force or military to enforce anything, civil order breaks down, and a worker shortage has led to nuclear reactors experiencing meltdowns. Society collapses, and those with guns call the shots. It’s basically a Fox News wet dream.
Despite the carnage, retired FBI agent Ben (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) just hangs around on his family farm, minding his own business. His relative peace is shattered with the arrival of Sarah (Ruby Modine), a survivor who might be miraculously immune, and thus the key to humanity’s survival (seriously). She’s being pursued by the nefarious Aaron (John Malkovich), who survived Covid-19, developed a messiah complex (naturally), and needs Sarah for his vague plans to save the species.
Malkovich is a prime example of what is typically called elevation. He’s such a fine performer that he elevates each scene he’s in (which isn’t many), delivering his hammy lines with a grandstanding confidence that temporarily distracts from the unpleasant absurdity of everything else that is unfolding. Rhys Meyers doesn’t fare quite as well. His character simply exists, and no amount of clumsy, tragic backstory is going to create substance. The film’s marketing appears to be positioning his character as a stereotypically stoic one-man army, even featuring the tagline, “Ordinary guy, extraordinary arsenal”. Are a few guns with an adequate supply of bullets really an extraordinary arsenal? Especially in the rural US? Also, shouldn’t the marketing department know how to correctly spell Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s name on the poster? Hello, Jonathan Rhys Myers.
To take a current, ongoing, unprecedented global health crisis, and to exploit it in a cynical attempt to lend gravitas to a humdrum low-budget action thriller (light on action and decidedly not thrilling) is nothing short of tacky. Just what is happening in the rest of the world isn’t mentioned, but apparently it left the US to its own devices. At worst, The Survivalist is callous and careless. At best, the dialogue will deliver a few unintentional giggles. However, for the most part, it’s merely tastelessly dull.
The Survivalist is released digitally on demand on 11th October 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Survivalist here: