The Survivor

You know you’re in for creepy hour-and-a-half when the opening shot is some little girls playing the “knock knock” game (Like the one from The Orphanage that made you shit your pants yeah?) in a big empty field, all of them staring ominously into the sky. Turns out their ominous staring is spot-on, as a passenger plane crashes catastrophically into a nearby field. Annoyingly enough for the crash site investigation team, the only survivor, the pilot Keller (Powell), has got flippin’ amnesia. Combine that with some meddling paparazzi and the vague whiff of ‘suspicious circumstances’, and there’s enough mystery in this film to keep you busy for the duration of its running time. Trouble is, there’s not nearly enough time to explain everything, and so plot-holes are rife.

Shot in South Australia, yet starring a combination of British and Aussie actors, the film’s location is strangely ambiguous. As we follow Keller throughout his soul searching it becomes increasingly apparent that he is stuck somewhere between life and death, a feeling that is intensified when he is sought out by clairvoyant Hobbs (Agutter), who claims to be haunted by those who died in the crash. The location therefore takes on a kind of liminal quality which mirrors Keller’s psychological state, credit for which must go to Hemmings. A liberal helping of soft focus cinematography and some really interesting uses of lighting make this even more convincing, even if it does make the film feel a little bit like Picnic At Hanging Rock meets Final Destination.

The only problem with this film really is that it doesn’t really know what kind of horror it wants to be. Were it to stick with the chilling, psychological tension that it pulls off pretty well then it would be far better off. As it is, there’s a bizarre string of grisly murders seemingly perpetuated by one of the aforementioned creepy children that you have to make sense of. Ok, so some of the murders in themselves are quite frightening, calling to mind some early Dario Argento, but they just seem tacked on, especially when a fisherman who has previously had no involvement with the film is pulled into a lake. Also, the film’s score, composed by Brian May, is just dreadful. Badly produced, overwrought, and at times painfully laugh inducing, May does his best to rob the film of its subtlety…and no, not that Brian May.

Still, the story breezes by swiftly and throughout you will be suitably captivated. Most of the performances are strong, which is all the more impressive given the script is at times very clunky. Powell delivers his lines with a sense of urgency that never delves into campiness, and Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Third Man) nearly steals the show as an Exorcist-like priest, in what was to be his last ever performance on screen. However, and it pains me to say this given my love of her (possibly due to watching An American Werewolf In London at a very young age), Jenny Agutter is pretty awful, and spends most of the film looking shocked at the sky, playing with her hair or breathing.

What’s really annoying about this film is that it’s so close to being excellent, and it’s the kind of horror that doesn’t seem to get made these days, partly because so much of it happens in the daytime. However, it’s still a very confused film that leaves many things unresolved. Still, worth a watch.

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