Sole Survivor 1983

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: someone has a vision that a passenger plane will crash. Afterwards the only survivor is stalked, as if death itself is trying to kill her. Yes it is pretty much the plot of Final Destination and made two decades before hand. In fact, it’s the plot of all five Final Destination films but it’s a good one so why not.

But there’s more! The woman is stalked by normal (ish) looking people who appear in the distance, often in mundane every day life situations. They gradually get nearer and nearer to her to try to finally kill her in some awful fashion. Yes again! It’s It Follows but thirty years before that. Please never let me have to say all five It Follows films.

Neither of these things matter. Both Final Destination (s) and It Follows are still great movies in their own rights. It is fascinating though to see that they both shared the same obscure influence, using it as a bouncing board to leap off in different directions. One became a slick, exciting horror spectacular and the other a disturbing art house film. They both started, however, at Sole Survivor

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It begins with a crazy actress having visions of a plane crash. Being of a super low budget even the vision only consists of a guy losing the green dot on his radar screen in a Control room the size of a broom cupboard. This is followed by the sole survivor herself sitting, still strapped to her chair, in the wreckage of the jumbo jet. Director Thom Eberhardt does manage to cover up his budgetary short comings though with lots of dim lighting and smoke.

We then go from the vision to the reality of the survivor, Denise, waking up in hospital. From here on in she is increasingly subjected to “visions” of people staring at her, walking towards her, wanting to kill her. Denise is played by two time actress Anita Skinner who previously only appeared in a cheesy comedy. I don’t know whether Skinner decided acting wasn’t for her or just wanted to do theatre but it’s a pity because she absolutely nails the lead role here. Occasionally the film can be a little flat but Skinner is never less than natural and authentic in the portrayal of a person who realises something is just not right in the world she is now living in. She has a that same haunted look about her that Maika Monroe did in It Follows and it surely isn’t a coincidence that they bare more than a passing resemblance to each other.

The second most interesting character in the film is the woman who saw the premonition of the plane crash. Caren Larkey plays wacky Karla Davis who used to be an actress of some success in trashy beach party movies until her visions got the better of her. Now all she can do is drink and ruin any chances she has of reviving her career. Larkey stumbles about the film all of a quiver as if she really was drunk. She’s not a happy go lucky drunk though, she’s damaged and desperate. No one has anytime for her. Karla is like the classic Greek soothsayer Cassandra , always right but no one ever listens to her. Karla herself is a survivor of her own gift of premonition, something she can only see as a destructive curse. It’s clever how the two main women of the film reflect each other and how their destinies are intertwined.

Director Thom Eberhardt moved away from horror after this his feature debut and that is a real pity. Although I said that the film feels sometimes a bit flat, that is mostly to its benefit. The bland normality of Denise’s post crash life makes the horrors of her impending doom, and the lifeless people closing in on her, all the more unnerving. This isn’t a showy directorial debut, it’s a quiet, unsettling one, and well worth seeking out. That is, of course, if you can sit through the poor quality 4:3 aspect ratio transfer. Sigh…

 

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