This bleak, brutal debut from Northern Irish writer-director Stephen Fingleton is set in an alternate present, where food is scarce and survival means hunkering down in the woods, growing a shaggy beard and farming the land. When a gentle-looking mother and daughter arrive on the doorstep of a solitary, nameless cabin dweller (played with steely, Fassbender-ish intensity by Martin McCann), their motives are unclear. Are they really just after a decent feed, or are they looking to screw him out of his modest shack and crop of spuds? Just as it’s about to become clear, they encounter a common enemy, and ‘The Survivalist’ turns into a canny study of how trust and loyalty are affected by circumstance.
It’s never made clear how such a dire situation came to be, but the ambiguous sense of time and place works to the film’s advantage. The bleakness of the woodland setting is reflected in a series of intensely personal moments – including an attempted DIY abortion – while brutal editing adds extra weight to moments of violence. The cautious chemistry between the three characters means the atmosphere is never less than taut, and it provides the perfect launchpad for a tense, poignant finale that marks Fingleton out as a name to watch.