The Survivor DVD review

Once the most expensive Australian movie of all time, James catchs up with The Survivor...

The Survivor

Released in 1981, The Survivor stands as a movie of note in that it was the first Australian feature to cost more than a million Australian Dollars to make. As well as cracking that milestone, the film features the last screen appearance of Hollywood legend Joseph Cotten (star of Shadow of a Doubt, Citizen Kane and The Third Man, for starters) as a priest and is directed by British thesp David Hemmings (who was often played by a piece of wood according to the Monty Python team). Going beyond the factoids though, this Aussie production, finally available for the first time on DVD, isn’t really that fascinating.

The Survivor starts with a disastrous plane crash: an unfortunate incident in which many innocent people perish except, strangely enough, the pilot. The surviving man, Keller, is played by Robert Powell (currently on British TV screens as a doctor in Holby City) who also appeared as a doomed airman in Ken Russell’s cinematic take on The Who’s rock-opera Tommy; this is not a man you want in the cockpit. As the authorities pore over the wreckage and Powell’s pilot tries to remember what happened, strange voices and supernatural occurrences start to happen around the crash sight. Jenny Agutter’s character, Hobbs, is particularly attuned to the spiritual vibrations, and contacts Keller as they seek to put the spirits to rest and find the reason behind the tragedy.

The premise is promising, but, sadly, the end result is pretty forgettable and, unlike the ill-fated plane, doesn’t catch fire. There are unsettling moments and the music and sound effects do an excellent job at conjuring up an eerie atmosphere, but whilst the audio is effective, the rest of the direction diminishes any suspense or tension.

There are several chilling scenes, but The Survivor ultimately fails to build on the select few shock sequences and sustain an underlying anxiety from start to finish. As a result, in its pretty plain execution we are left with a supernatural horror plot that plays out like a pedestrian television drama. $1 million may get you a scale-size plane and the required impressive pyrotechnics, but as proved by The Survivor, it doesn’t get you a strong narrative in which audiences can immerse themselves.

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The new DVD release is also disappointing in that it doesn’t offer much beyond the standard chapter selection and retro trailer, which – along with the flaming skull menu graphics – promises a horror movie to really rile you. Viewers can take comfort then if they feel let down by the lack of resonance in The Survivor by considering the trailers for other obscure, forgotten Aussie films that you have no choice but to enjoy before you get to the main event. Storm Boy, Malcolm and Doing Time For Patsy Kline may, in fact ,be masterpieces, but the terrible adverts that precede The Survivor do nothing to persuade me. As such, this DVD is not the most powerful promotional article for the Australian film industry.

Altogether, The Survivor isn’t a soaring success, but isn’t bad as a well-acted flick with some spooky moments. It’s just a shame that David Hemmings fails to direct a pretty decent concept into a captivating horror-drama that holds interest all the way through.


2 stars
1 stars

3 February 2009


2 out of 5