Director: Adam Spinks
Written by: Adam Spinks, Laurence Timms
Starring: Joanna Gale, David Anderson, Simon Burbage
Release dates 20th October USA 26th October UK & Europe.
The outbreak of a deadly virus sends the UK into a state of emergency, into a war it appears destined to lose. In a world without laws, without order and without anybody watching… how far would you go to survive?
28 DAYS LATER has a lot to answer for. Although released in 2002, we are still seeing its off-spring. Got a deserted location and a digital camera? Well add some ketchup and moody guitar-music and BOOM. You have secured your place on the supermarket DVD shelf, along with every other film with the words “Zombie”, “Apocalypse”, and “Dead” somewhere in the title. There’s only so much of this stuff an audience cam stomach. We need something fresh, innovative…Will SURVIVORS do the job?
Kate and Duke are young documentarians working to expose a company called Madea on there illegal genetic experimentation. As they investigate and gradually expose what will eventually (SPOILER!) become a zombie outbreak, we intercut with Kate after the event, where she meets the mysterious Paul. The two wander the wastelands, overcoming obstacles on their search for the now-missing Duke. As the film goes on, so the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, past and present coming together…
Okay, I will give Survivors this. It does try to shake things up. With our post-apocalypse scenes shot traditionally, our pre-apocalypse scenes are done found-footage. So we have a half and half, a best of both worlds. But its very uneven. Its basically two films stitched together!
We have an atmospheric but witty and quite engaging found-footage film, with a real sense of urgency and stakes as the world turns to shit. These scenes work well, as the budget is well-utilised, guerrilla filmmaking allowing scenes to happen in public, background sound selling us on the chaos. Its simple, its smart, its effective.
Then we have a slow, meandering present day story that only gathers steam in the last half hour. Until then, it is just scenes of…walking…pondering…sulking…no momentum, no stakes, no interest. Also, the performances suffer compared to the past portions.
Director Adam Spinks is becoming quite prolific recently, with the recent EXTINCTION proving a successful home entertainment indie. He is definitely growing as a filmmaker, and Survivors shows a real affinity with the material and the performances in particular. But like Extinction, Survivors also suffers from serious pacing and structural issues. The first third is extremely slow, and I would not be surprised if some viewers turn off at this point. Which would be a mistake, as things do eventually get interesting. Eventually.
The cast is a similarly mixed bag. As our lead Kate, Joanne Gale is naturalistic and convincing as a determined documentarian, but the character is pretty unsympathetic until towards the climax. David Anderson as Paul is hampered with an ill-defined character who gets his fair share of poor dialogue, and takes a while to make his presence known.
Simon Burbage is excellent as Duke, but he’s hardly in the bloody movie! Our best character is the cameraman for the most part, and so we only hear him. Its a testament to Burbage’s efforts that he is so likeable, so engaging, so human, with just his voice. The need for Kate to find him is what drives the plot, and you really want him to be okay when she does. Really promising work.
For what I’m guessing is low-budget production, the money is on the screen. Gore FX are great when they come, and lots of background detail in both the post and pre-end of the world scenes are utilised in smart, efficient ways: background sirens sell chaos elsewhere; a burning crashed plane in a field is so unexpected and realistic it took me by surprise. Music is moody and suspenseful, and the sound design for the infected is to be commended.
I think the main issue with Survivors is that every single idea and scene has been done in countless other zombie films. Although its done very, very well, it is nothing new. Stitching two types of filmmaking together is not enough to distract from this unfortunately.
That said, after a slow first twenty five minutes, things begin to pick up and horror fans are sure to find a lot of entertainment value. Spinks has shown ambition with filmmaking techniques and scope here, but he just needs a faster and more original story to stick it to.
There is genuine effort and intent here, and that’s enough to separate it from the other “Zombie”, “Dead” and “Apocalypse” films that stalk the DVD shelves.