.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Saturday, October 20, 2012

movies: sole survivor (1983)

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.

As Denise, 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.

Skinner 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.

Sole 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.  Highly recommended.

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