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Movie Review: 'The Survivalist' Starring John Malkovich

The Survivalist tells an exciting pandemic era post-apocalypse story.

By Sean PatrickPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
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The Survivalist is a new pandemic thriller starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the owner of a large piece of land in Pennsylvania living peacefully away from the regular world where COVID-19 has mutated and caused mass death. Meyers’ Ben is a former FBI Agent with a stockpile of weapons and food who smartly began to prepare for this situation just as things started to get very, very bad.

Unfortunately for Ben, the pandemic is about to come to him in the form of Sarah, played by Ruby Modine. Saraj is on the run with her former FBI Agent brother who sadly, doesn’t make it very far. Bad people led by a wannabe messiah named Aaron (John Malkovich), want to capture Sarah because they believe she may be immune to COVID-19. They want to capture Sarah and breed her in a vain attempt to save America.

I promise, the movie is better than this poster makes it look.

Sarah’s brother has given her directions to go to Ben’s farm because Ben was his mentor in the FBI and he believes that Ben may be able to protect her from Aaron and his lackeys. Once Sarah finds the farm, Aaron and his band are right behind her and while Ben is reluctant to take in a stranger, especially because he doesn’t know that she might be immune, he is forced to take her in once he becomes the target of Aaron’s wrath.

The Survivalist was directed by Jon Keeyes, a very capable hand when it comes to directing an action movie. Aside from the timely subject of COVID-19, The Survivalist is essentially an action movie and taken as just an action movie it is a skillfully made and well paced movie. The action is the strong suit of The Survivalist as the COVID-19 stuff is merely background, something to drive the plot.

One specifically smart, well crafted, action sequence finds Ben confronting Aaron and his war wagon, a refurbished cargo van, customized for the war Aaron believes that he and his people must fight to save humanity. Cut off at Ben’s driveway, Ben meets the wagon at the entrance and a standoff ensues. Both sides have limited ammunition and director Jon Keeyes uses this to create tension as both Ben and Aaron have to make split second decisions on how much ammo they are able to spend.

John Malkovich is a commanding presence. Even in something as clearly low budget as The Survivalist, Malkovich’s undeniable commitment to this role and his outsized talent make him a magnetic presence. Malkovich does disappear for a lengthy period of The Survivalist but he nevertheless makes the most of his scenes. When Malkovich stares down the camera declares himself a man of divine purpose, he means it, you can’t help but buy into this guy as someone willing to kill for his cause and that gives the whole movie a real charge.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a less than likely action hero. Often cast in roles for his eyes and cheekbones, Meyers proves capable in The Survivalist. Meyers' best scenes are the few genuinely dramatic scenes which illustrate Ben’s complicated relationship with his father. These flashbacks to just before the pandemic, as father and son are arguing and falling out, are really compelling and director Jon Keeyes places these flashbacks at just the right moment in order to let the audience breathe between the violent confrontations.

Some will quite reasonably state that The Survivalist is exploiting the fears surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak to sell an action movie and those statements are valid. It’s inescapable that this movie is a COVID-19 pandemic movie. The exposition radio station that Ben listens to even references the Delta Variant and how it eventually proved to be the downfall of America as it spread quickly and killed many.

That said, I didn’t mind the exploitation because the action of The Survivalist is strong enough for me to recommend. I enjoyed the staging of the shootout, the hand to hand confrontations between Meyers and Malkovich’s goon squad, and I really enjoyed how the director acknowledges the scarcity of supplies, specifically ammunition to create a sort of ticking clock based on how little each side has left to fight with.

As an action movie and because John Malkovich is a wonderfully entertaining villain, I recommend you check out The Survivalist when it arrives in limited theatrical release on October 1st or on streaming rental when it arrives not long after the theatrical release. Fans of action movies and John Malkovich will undoubtedly have a good time watching The Survivalist.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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