2Survive isn’t your typical found footage horror film. It just looks like one. And if you turned it off after the first twenty minutes, you might be fooled into thinking it is.
It starts out, as most of these films do, with an official proclamation that something has gone terribly wrong. Not only that, it was caught on camera. We open with a TV producer attempting to wiggle his way out of claiming responsibility for a reality show that went horribly wrong during the filming of the pilot episode. The show, Survive, is essentially a version of The Amazing Race. A group of people, ranging in skill and survival ability, are thrown together in the middle of the Mojave desert, and must follow a series of clues in order to find the end of the journey – and win a significant amount of money. A series of unfortunate mistakes and coincidences lead to tragedy, and the group finds themselves stranded in the desert with a dwindling water supply, a password protected satellite phone (which they do not have the code for), and an increasingly fragmented group dynamic.
Getting found footage films to really work requires a delicate balance of group dynamics, interesting scenery, and some sort of – usually doomed – hero’s journey. A script can provide interesting back-stories and dialog, but what really makes these films fly or die is the chemistry that the actors have with each, and how the camera chooses to portray that on screen.
2Survive doesn’t hit you in the face with anything (except for a cactus)*, so it takes a while for the story to really push the characters out of their starting molds. The characters are introduced as stereotypes, but the stress of the situation forces the best – and the very, very worst – out of all of them. The gung-ho survivalist ex-marine has no idea how to interact with civilians, is possibly in the closet, and eventually strikes up a quiet, powerful friendship with a character he previously mocked and belittled. Amber, the woman chosen for her sex appeal, turns out to the both the kindest and the most intelligent of the group, and demands that she be treated as a person and not an object. It’s a credit that 2Survive included that moment at all, and didn’t shy away from having the other characters chortle at her. Amber might scream at the sight of a spider, but she is consistently the only one who can decipher the clues that lead to more water. The biology professor’s playful arrogance turns into something much scarier as the tension rises. The fat, queer concierge provides an unexpected voice of reason and empathy, and teaches Amber how to pray when he thinks it might comfort her. Lastly, there is Violet, the former nurse who admits she’s addicted to watching people die. She knows that something is horribly wrong with her, but has no idea how to change or even articulate what she is feeling. She knows that she cannot continue working in medicine, but has no idea what to do next.
And of course, there is the creepy green light that seems to follow the characters around and precede the next horrible event to besiege them. The eventual explanation is brilliant in its simplicity, and quietly foreshadowed. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t see it coming.
2Survive isn’t your average found footage film. It’s much quieter than that. The characters don’t have dramatic death scenes. Their suffering is horrible in its quietness. Nothing is played up for interesting shots or even for drama. For a horror film, 2Survive has surprisingly little blood. Characters don’t die from sudden, violent injuries – but from slow, creeping things, like dehydration and infection. Actors and filmmakers talk extensively about the importance of a good death scene in horror, but 2Survive isn’t interested in making the deaths dramatic or shocking. They happen, in slow and sad and preventable ways, and the film leaves the survivors to deal in the best ways that they can.
Whether or not you find the characters likable, 2Survive has managed the incredible feat of making its ensemble cast incredibly, vividly human. It doesn’t have much to say about society, but it does argue that people – no matter how flawed or selfish – are better when they connect with each other. It’s telling that the two characters who survive (2 survive, hah), are the ones who strike up the deepest friendship and never turn on each other, even at the worst moments. 2Survive is an incredible character piece for a film that doesn’t bother much with backstory. It simply throws these characters into a situation, and watches things unfold.
This is a very quiet sort of movie. I would very much recommend it.
*One of the characters literally takes a cactus to the face. It sounds funny. It’s not.