Dead On Arrival: Our Review Of ‘Survival Box’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - August 15, 2019
Dead On Arrival: Our Review Of ‘Survival Box’

Survival Box is a Canadian thriller film from director William Scoular and stars an ensemble cast that are virtually unknown (at least to me). It is essentially a “bottle movie” – a small group of characters in a single location for the majority of its runtime. 

The film opens with a rather on-the-nose framing device of some of our characters watching a news report scrutinizing a tweet from President Donald Trump antagonizing North Korea’s Kim Jong-un about America’s superior nuclear arsenal (a tweet that I remember well). Shortly thereafter, our cast retreat into the palatial estate’s fallout bunker for an underground rave. When they awaken in the morning, they find that they are in lock-down due to (though it’s never made entirely clear) a nuclear attack. 

On paper, this is my kind of movie. I love seeing a small number of characters in a small setting having to come to terms with one another. If it functions as a character study, bonus. If some characters suffer cabin fever and start going crazy, even better. While these ideas are explored to some extent, I must say, I didn’t like this movie at all. 

The characters in this film are so poorly written, particularly because most of them have seemingly been written into a dramatic archetype box. Chris (Paul Syrstad) is the pragmatist, Scott (Adam Moryto) is the unhinged antagonist (you know he’s evil because he’s doing magic mushrooms), and Kit (Maria Zungia) is the well-meaning, yet mentally ill girl that nobody understands. 

With the exceptions of Michala Brasseur (Camilla), Tori Khalil (Amy), and the aforementioned Zungia (all of whom turn in pretty decent performances – with Zungia doing the absolute best she can with what’s been given to her), this is not a particularly well acted film. Having said that, I have to place the majority of the blame on the screenplay. The dialogue is awful, it’s cliché, and we’ve heard these lines in countless movies before this one.

There are character beats that feel incredibly shoehorned in just to create drama. One character antagonizes another for absolutely no reason other than perhaps spite. If this had taken place after weeks inside the bunker to show how this character is losing it, fine. This happens on day two, and there’s simply no reason for it. 

We get the requisite conversations about rationing food, adopting a democratic method, bunker maintenance, and “should we, or should we not try going outside?”, and it all feels like a retread. We’ve seen all of this before, and oftentimes executed much better. 

As cliques between our group of survivors begin to coalesce, so do tensions between the various factions. Rarely do these conflicts amount to much, and tension is not well established. Further, one character has a number of dream sequences that add nothing to the film but time. 

The heavily electronic score is overwrought, seemingly trying to explain to the audience that this is a particularly important moment, rather than the filmmaker doing it himself organically. 

The line between foreshadowing and telegraphing is a fine one. As far as how my mind works, foreshadowing gives me a subconscious inkling of what will happen, whereas telegraphing just straight up tells me. Survival Box is all telegraph. Because of that, the movie doesn’t hold a single surprise. It plays out exactly as I expected it to. 

Survival Box is not very good. The film is boring, cliche, and brings nothing new to the table in an already cluttered genre. Honestly? Don’t bother.

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