Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sole Survivor (1983)

A movie that I'd seen mentioned numerous times over the years, Sole Survivor is a film that many people love and point to as a forerunner to the likes of Final Destination and the films of M. Night Shyamalan. While I can see the connections I also think that the quality and influence of this movie has been somewhat overstated as the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia obscure the movie itself. I may, of course, just be missing out on something that everyone else sees. It happens occasionally.

Anyway, the movie is centred around the following premise: Denise Watson (Anita Skinner) is a very lucky woman, the only survivor of a major airplane crash. The doctor who has spent a long time helping her to recuperate, Brian Richardson (Kurt Johnson), explains the difficulties that she still has ahead as she attempts to head home and resume a normal life. A lot of survivors wonder just how worthwhile their lives are, many go on to die or commit suicide within the next year or two. Denise is, understandably, fragile and her mindset isn't helped by a kooky actress, Karla Davis (Caren Larkey), who seems to think that something is amiss. Denise also starts to see people around her, silent and sinister, and begins to suspect that they're not normal, living human beings.

Yes, from the above paragraph you may immediately be thinking "aahhhh, those connections mentioned are obvious now" but that would be a misrepresentation of this film. There are one or two strange incidents that almost cause Denise mortal danger (a la Final Destination) but as the story develops things are shown to have a more physical, yet sinister and supernatural, explanation. People are mystified as Denise grows more afraid throughout the film but there's no invisible Grim Reaper after anyone. The fact that people die, or are scheduled to die, ties in with a theory explained within the movie and makes for an enjoyably spooky chain of events leading up to an absolutely fantastic punchline.

Sadly, while the pieces of the puzzle are sliding together, nothing especially noteworthy happens for the first hour of the movie. The crash itself isn't shown, a number of tense moments end up deflating rather than reaching any entertaining peak, and the behaviour of most of the characters onscreen ends up being quite irritating while viewers get impatient for more than just random scare attempts.

Anita Skinner does okay in the title role, Kurt Johnson is the typical male co-star who doesn't believe anything strange is happening until he's sparked into action towards the big finale and Caren Larkey does her best while stuck portraying one of the more irritating characters. Robin Davidson, as young neighbour Kristy Cutler, lights up the screen with her presence and genre fans will enjoy seeing a young Brinke Stevens already at ease with some onscreen nudity.

Writer-director Thom Eberhardt (who would provide something much better with his next movie, Night Of The Comet) certainly puts a few decent ideas into this mix, and the film is just as heavily influenced by some greats from the past as it is allegedly influential upon more modern outings, but he mires those elements into something with sluggish pacing and nothing visually exciting to help en route to the, admittedly spooky, ending. I thought it was still worth a watch. Once.

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