Not to be confused with the made for TV William Shatner vehicle, or some Kensington cobbler, this Sole Survivor is a subtle, eerie portrayal of guilt, depression and confusion, and the very real "horror" that those emotions suggest.
In keeping with the quiet, creeping dread of earlier films like Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls or Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz' Messiah of Evil,
Sole Survivor tells the story of Denise (Anita Skinner), the - wait for
it - sole survivor of a horrible plane crash, of which we are shown the
grisly aftermath during the film's opening scene. The rest of the film
plays out very much in Final Destination
mode (albeit with much less gratuitousness and spectacle), with death
sending his minions to collect what should have been rightfully his.
Helmed in a workmanlike fashion (but with a strange, austere artistry) by Thom Eberhardt (Night of the Comet),
Sole Survivor is one of those forgotten jewels of the VHS era, only
recently exhumed by Code Red. And for that, we can all be grateful, as
what we have here is a compelling film that is better off in your DVD
player than in a Blockbuster delete bin.
Skinner is an incredibly sympathetic character, tough and fragile at the
same time, trying so very hard to keep a smile on her face and her head
held high, but we get the sense that somewhere just beneath the
surface, cracks have formed and are beginning to take hold. What makes
the outcome of the film all the more shocking and brilliant is that
following her crash, she has found love, and things are beginning to
look up. Oh dear, she couldn't be more wrong.
authors a very complex character in what could have been a much less
touching role. Her nuanced performance makes the film and elevates it
from a forgotten also-ran to a rediscovered gem. Making this all the
more remarkable (and - if you'll play along with me - a touch creepy) is
the fact that this is one of only two of Skinner's film credits. She
had a role in the 1978 film Girlfriends,
then poof, right off the map. A cursory internet search turned up
nothing else as to what she did next, or her current whereabouts.
Survivor offers up an icy, crawling horror that comes from the slow
realization that the impossibly terrifying is not only possible, but
probable, and that more often than not, there are no happy endings. I
watched the film three days ago and it's stuck with me in the way the
best horror does - it doesn't seek to shock, but to disturb, to burrow
its way into your unconscious and lie there for a spell, reminding you
every once in awhile that everything is not as peachy as it seems.