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THE SURVIVOR Review (Severin Films Blu-Ray)

The Survivor has an interesting premise and a couple of solid sequences, but ultimately it's a slow plane ride that focuses too much on plane crash reconstruction and not enough on its supernatural ideas. This Severin Films Blu-Ray release has great picture and audio quality but the extras don't necessarily pertain to the film itself.
The Good
Plane crash sequence is thrilling
Great picture quality with this 2k transfer
The Bad
Overall a slow and dialogue-heavy film
Special features don't necessarily pertain to the film itself

The Survivor review

Rarely do supernatural occurrences take place in a heavily populated, outdoor area. But The Survivor, a 1981 horror film directed by David Hemmings and based on a story by James Herbert, focuses on that idea of a large-scale haunting. It involves a plane crash that kills 300 people at the beginning of the film, leaving only one survivor behind in its wake: the pilot Keller (Robert Powell), a man suffering from survivor’s guilt and hearing voices around the wreckage. The Survivor boils slowly, with Hemmings giving heavy character development as Keller and a psychic woman named Hobbes (Jenny Agutter) piece together the mystery.

The opening sequence really sets the tone for the rest of the film to follow. A quick introduction to some of the characters and the passengers of the plane is barely out of the way before the whole thing comes crashing down, and Hemmings’ unbroken focus on the chaos of the situation is strikingly tense – there’s very little dialogue, and The Survivor follows this harrowing experience from beginning to end. It’s a drawn-out passage, showcasing the reactions of a photographer on the scene and the people in the midst of the crash as well as Hobbes’ presence.

the survivor review 1

But that tendency for drawing things out to their maximum length becomes The Survivor‘s struggling point. In some sequences, the long scenes work incredibly well to generate suspense, especially with the paranormal aspects or the multiple shots of the plane wreckage depicting a powerful image of death and destruction. Other scenes, however, fail to reach their potential, and Hemmings often wedges a lot of dialogue into the film where it doesn’t really belong. Too much time is spent on reconstructing the crash scene or following extraneous characters that ultimately fail to make much of a difference in the plot.

There’s some necessity to that slow journey, however. The Survivor requires quite a bit of character development for Keller, who struggles to cope with his life after feeling the weight of 300 dead people on his soul. It’s difficult to miss the themes about mortality and survivor’s guilt interspersed with the supernatural hauntings; those ghosts are, for the most part, a metaphor about being haunted in life by mistakes. In this case, though, The Survivor takes a left turn by incorporating a murderer into the film as well; a bomb planted on the plane takes the blame away from Keller, who suffers from post-traumatic amnesia after the crash.

the survivor review 2

Still, The Survivor isn’t tense enough to warrant its overly-bloated running time, and even its paranormal sequences tend to fall a bit short. Besides the initial plane crash, there’s nothing that stands out about the film besides its impressive plane wreckage on location; this makes it hard to recommend the film to those thinking about seeing it for the first time. While Powell and Agutter do a commendable job with their characters, the film’s main villain is a lot less explicitly defined, and this seems like a poor translation from novel to film. Even worse is an ambiguous final sequence that is intentionally left open to interpretation; however, that ambiguity changes the context of the film quite a bit, and The Survivor comes up short as the viewer struggles to make sense of the meaning.

The Survivor is an intriguing concept, and its story does have a lot of thematic resonance. However, as a film it is less successful than what James Herbert’s novel presumably offers, with too much plot to sift through and a languid pace that hinders more than it helps. Some scenes are certainly worth seeing – the plane crash itself being the most memorable – but for the most part, The Survivor’s mystery fails to take off.

Click next for the Blu-Ray review.

Blu-Ray review

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Severin Films has given The Survivor a nice Blu-Ray release with an all new 2k HD transfer. The image quality is very good, even with the film’s darker lighting, and though there are a few spots with film damage, otherwise this is a pretty pristine release that looks great for its age. Fans of The Survivor will certainly enjoy the work Severin has done with this transfer.

The audio is presented in LPCM mono and sounds nice and clean, with no real issues to speak of. The subtitles feature a rather big and chunky font, which may or may not look pleasing to the viewer (I appreciate the easy reading, but the font itself leaves something to be desired). That’s a small caveat however.

The extra features are kind of a mixed bag on this release. While there are some interesting featurettes including an archive TV special with Joseph Cotton and Peter Sumner and archival TV interviews with director David Hemmings and actor Robert Powell, a good portion of the extras don’t particularly pertain to The Survivor itself. “The Legacy of James Herbert” and Robert Powell’s interview on James Herbert focus on the writer of the novel The Survivor is based on, and extended interviews with producer Anthony I. Ginnane and cinematographer John Seale are snagged from a different documentary called Not Quite Hollywood. For film buffs, this bonus content is intriguing; but for people looking for more info on the making of The Survivor, not much on this disc will specifically pertain.

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