In Stephen Fingleton's eerie and masterful dystopian thriller "The Survivalist," a man (Martin McCann) survives in the woods alone; washing, grooming, planting crops, burying his dead. When mother and daughter (Olwen Fouere and Mia Goth) show up on his land, they proffer what they have to trade for food and shelter, like offering a nonthreatening treat to a skittish, feral animal. All they have is seeds and sex, and he is interested only in the latter.
In this post-civilization world, trust does not exist, and sex, or the lack thereof, pervades the atmosphere with a sinister, sickening ubiquity. Fingleton focuses on this particular element of life and explores the way it might function as currency, manipulation, violence; as well as what the threat of pregnancy means when there are already too many mouths to feed.
The screenplay, written by Fingleton, is incredibly spare. The pace is at times achingly slow, punctuated with bursts of swift, intimate violence. The camera work is meticulous and exquisite in its expression, creating a sense of tense foreboding throughout, linking characters and images with a creepy omniscience.
At times, "The Survivalist" feels almost too restrained and the cryptic resolutions aren't explicitly clear. Nor does Fingleton entirely wrap up the tense and deadly dance he weaves among the main trio of characters. But it as riveting as it is morally confounding.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood; Arena Cinelounge Las Palmas, Hollywood; Arena Cinelounge Santa Monica