‘Survive’ Review: Sophie Turner & Corey Hawkins Carry Quibi’s Survival Thriller
The survival movie formula works. It’s a thrill that makes you wonder, how might I fare in such a situation? And you can play along safe and sound from the comfort of your own home. But why color in the genre lines when your survival movie has a very interesting wrinkle to it that could offer up a much more complex look at one’s ability to forge forward and live?
Sophie Turner leads the Quibi survival thriller Survive as Jane. She’s a young woman about to be released from Lifehouse, a facility for 14 to 22-year-olds suffering from a variety of challenges. In Jane’s case? It’s the struggle of being haunted by her grandmother and father’s sucidie, and having suicidal ideations herself. The facility deems her ready to fly back to her mother on the east coast, but Jane is still determined to end it all. The thing is, right before she can do so, her plane crashes in the snowy mountains of the pacific northwest.
Survive is one of Quibi’s “movies in chapters,” a full length feature film chopped up into seven to ten-minutes segments. I was given five chapters to screen so in comparison to a traditional feature release, this is a review of the first act and the very beginning of the second act of the movie.
Turner proves to be a strong anchor for the film right from the start. The first chapter and a half focuses on Jane’s final days at Lifehouse and offers a pretty comprehensive look at what she’s going through in a mere 13 minutes of screen time, which is quite the achievement considering how many layers there are to her situation. Turner’s highly engaging performance proves to be a vital asset as the film follows Jane to the airport and then onto the plane because from one chapter to the next, Survive is tonally and stylistically inconsistent.
At the beginning, director Mark Pellington and writers Richard Abate and Jeremy Ungar (adapting the Alex Morel novel) make the curious choice to have Jane break the fourth wall. Perhaps that’s something that could have made Survive stand out, but then the technique doesn’t return. What begins as a weighty drama eventually veers into horror territory, eerily similar to the first Final Destination movie. (Not just because of the plane crash, but because they actually discuss premonitions before it happens. And there’s also a good deal of carnage.)
While this second comparison might seem out of left field, there’s actually another franchise connection worth considering. The first five episodes of Survive had me thinking about Saw quite a bit, specifically the way that John Kramer (Tobin Bell) tests his victim’s will to live. Again, the Quibi release format forces us to share thoughts on a feature without seeing the whole movie, but it does seem like this tragedy is going to challenge Jane to rethink ending her life, perhaps changing it for the better. It’s a very heavy topic to pair with what appears to be a formulaic survival thriller, but I’m confident that Turner can handle the balance. The bigger question is, can the script itself? And can it do so without implying you need a tragedy to overcome such a diagnosis?
Corey Hawkins also makes a big impression as Paul, a kind guy at the airport who winds up sitting next to Jane on the plane. At first, Paul is your quintessential gentlemen, checking in on the visibly distraught Jane, while also clearly flirting with her. Hawkins is quite charming in the role, but where things take a very interesting turn for Paul is when his response to the crash is revealed, particularly when he realizes that he might have far more fight in him than Jane does. That kind of back-and-forth does have the potential to set Survive apart from similar films.
On the technical front, visual style largely takes a back seat to getting the necessary coverage. (Seemingly a recurring issue with Quibi features.) However, there are moments when cinematographer David Devlin’s work does pop. For instance, his framing paired with Turner’s performance often give great access to the anxiety that Jane is feeling, particularly during and after going through airport security.
At this point, I suspect Survive is going one of two ways. It could be an especially layered survival tale featuring the push-pull between Paul’s desperation to make it through this and Jane’s persistent desire to just give up. However, Survive could also get caught up in survival movie formula, forgoing the thoughtful layers that could create loads of dramatic tension in favor of showy action set pieces. One way or the other, I’d like to bet the pairing of Turner and Hawkins will continue to make Survive an engaging, entertaining watch as we get more installments.