As a way of pointing out the ingenuity of a man alone in a bleak, dystopian future, showing him fertilise precious seedlings with his own precious seed is eye-poppingly original. With several more brutally stark moments, The Survivalist becomes something even more surprising: a fresh and gripping take on the post-apocalyptic survival story.
We never see or hear about the events that lead to a man (Martin McCann) living alone in a forest shack, laying traps for animals and tripwires for intruders who might steal his supplies, reap his crops or worse. He makes wild mushroom soup, has top-and-tail washes with collected rainwater and tends his plants; as well as the onanistic horticulture, he fertilises the soil with decomposing human bodies. His constant companion: a shotgun and its last two shells.
Then two women arrive. The elder (Olwen Fouéré) offers him seeds in return for shelter; that not being enough, she offers the younger (Mia Goth), her daughter, and that seals the deal. Alliances form and plots are hatched, some surprising. The gun and the ammo come into play in a couple of unflashy but incredibly tense action sequences.
The Survivalist arrives almost exactly as The Walking Dead strides on into the second, eight-episode half of its sixth series. The budget of one instalment of that show is about twice that of this movie, and that the film does not suffer in comparison is due mainly to its debut writer-director, Northern Irishman Stephen Fingleton.
There is none of the moralising that bogs down many post-apocalypse plots: here, years after whatever it was that collapsed civilisation, what’s got to be done just gets done. And those suffering from zombie fatigue will be pleased to learn there’s no undead in this particular future. It’s no spoiler to say that the ending, with only a hint of resolution, is far from happy — reason again, in the case of this taut little thriller, to be cheerful.
The Survivalist is in cinemas and on demand from 12 February