It’s quite the week for films about people who find themselves stuck in underground death traps, with three new releases revolving around similar situations. There’s a good one, a not so great one, and then there’s Survival Boxt-weight: 400;”>, which isn’t just the worst of the three, but a lock to go down as one of the dullest and least essential thrillers of the year. A cheap, shoddy, ugly looking, basic thriller with wooden dialogue, thin characters, and all the energy of a slug that’s been doused in salt, Survival Box might think that it’s saying something about human nature, loss of civility, and the potential fall of humankind, but really it’s as useless as a bag of fingernail clippings. It’s easy to figure out what Survival Box wants to say because it has been said in countless better movies before it. The bigger questions are who this movie was made for and why anyone thought it would be thrilling or entertaining in the first place. It’s the kind of slipshod, carelessly thrown together movie that has “tax write off” practically written on the script’s title page, and I’d sooner watch a movie about those returns being filed. It would have to be more riveting than this absolute chore of a motion picture.
Wealthy young adults Josh and Ben (Jake Kenny-Byrne and Daniel von Diergardt) are throwing an end of high school bash for some friends at their parents’ posh estate. Most of the party takes place in an underground bunker that their mother had commissioned shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but it has remained largely unused since its construction. The party winds down, and most of the guests go home, save for a handful of Josh and Ben’s closest friends and their considerably older, drugged out, and douchier half-brother, Scott (Adam Moryoto). Shortly after mom’s head of security tells the remaining revellers to wrap things up and get out, sirens sound and the bunker gets put into lockdown, trapping everyone inside. Initially, they think it’s a prank or someone who wants revenge, but it’s not long before they realize that something terrible has actually happened, and all contact with the outside world has stopped. It looks like they’ll be down there for months, with only two decontamination suits between them if they want to explore the surface, one guy who’s rapidly detoxing, a young woman (María José Zuniga) who needs antipsychotic medication to get through the day, an asthmatic (Boris Bilic), and another young woman who turns out to be pregnant (Tori Khalil).
Written by Ashlin Halfnight without a single original idea and directed with minimal energy by William Scoular, Survival Box (which I can only guess is a title that was chosen because it sounds like fellow apocalyptic thriller Bird Box) dies a slow and painful death before it even gets started. By the time the doors slam shut on everyone and they settle into their fates, Survival Box hasn’t given the audience a single person worth following, rooting for, investing in, or booing. They’re all such thinly drawn caricatures of stereotypically privileged and good looking rich kids that they might as well be picked off one at a time by some goon in a hockey mask. We should be so lucky, however, as Survival Box is mostly a long slog while the viewer waits for them all to die, disappear, go crazy, or escape, with none of those moments registering even the slightest of emotional responses.
95% of Survival Box takes place in the bunker, and probably half the film takes place in a single hallway that’s lit only by the bright red light hanging above the door. To say that Survival Box is an ugly looking movie is an understatement, but it’s nothing if not believably sparse (except for the modern art that hangs in the dining and living area of the bunker, which I guess makes sense if the family was loaded with cash above ground). Everyone shouts at each other. They argue over what their next moves should be. They bicker about what the fate of the soon-to-be-born baby should be. Some want to explore the surface. Some want to grow plants, Some want to preserve the resources they have. Some think they should stay put and keep listening for signs of life outside. Every conversation that has ever been had in a post apocalyptic future is had in Survival Box without deviation and without ingenuity. Even with just an eighty minute running time, the overall lack of momentum and originality makes every second of Survival Box feel like spending an eternity underground with some of the world’s most churlish, childish, and least interesting human beings.
The cast is trying to imbue some charisma into their characters, but it’s impossible with a script this laboured and when every single one of them looks too old to pass for teenagers. The character of Scott is supposed to look like he’s somewhere around the age of thirty, and all of his cast members only look a couple of years younger. There are lots of silent moments that I’m sure Scoular (who’s only previous credit is a TV movie about the Nancy Eaton murder, and that was sixteen years ago) thinks these scenes show the characters in deep contemplation or torment, but really everyone just looks blank and lost. Then again, a lot of the moments that don’t have dialogue are set to one of the most annoying trance-y musical scores I’ve ever heard. The lines the actors have to speak are terrible, but the laughably shrill “blip, blip, drip, drip, bloop, BWWWAAAHAHSCCCCCEEEEECH” soundtrack is arguably worse.
Survival Box acts like it’s building towards some sort of grand showdown at the film’s end when only a few of the characters are still standing, but Scoular and Halfnight have no clue how to logically wrap this up in any sort of satisfying or thought provoking fashion. Tensions might be rising on screen, but rarely has rage, fear, and uncertainty been as boring as it is in Survival Box, and there’s no way to fix it without scrapping the whole thing. You could watch it with the sound off, but all you’d be left with is a bunch of ugly visuals. You could turn the picture off and just listen to it, but all that would be left is shrill shouting, stock dialogue, and a musical score that sounds like it’s trying to murder everyone on screen. Survival Box should be locked away in a bunker somewhere. This isn’t the kind of film that gets released in theatres. It’s the kind of film that escapes.
Survival Box opens at Carlton Cinemas in Toronto on Friday, August 16, 2019.