James and Wild Bill, two self-proclaimed survival experts and stars of their own reality TV show, explore and demonstrate survival techniques in the Black Fork Wilderness area in a remote corner of Oklahoma. Two young women from Tulsa, huge fans of the show, arrive and watch as the two survivalists shoot a segment. Later that day the camera crew leaves and a night of wild debauchery ensues. The next morning they find they are being hunted by the ultimate predator…a lunatic redneck from Arkansas. A real life survival scenario unfolds as they fight to stay alive.
The Art of Survival by writer/director Joey Evans can best be described as a survival thriller and not horror like I originally though it would be (my fault – I see “lunatic redneck” and immediately my mind goes the horror route). There’s not too much scary happening here though. There are moments of lingering unease which is always a nice touch (if you’re into that sort of thing). Unfortunately there are also moments of lingering…lingering.
The movie spends the majority of its time setting up its characters which is normally awesome because too many movies don’t go that route. However, for all the setting up, I didn’t care for any of these characters and wasn’t too greatly concerned with what was going on with them. James and Wild Bill seem like the type of guys I’d avoid at any cost (vaguely frat’ish and annoying) while the two girls from Tulsa were annoying in entirely different ways. This had nothing to do with the acting skills (in fact, kudos to them for making me dislike them so!). Everyone did a terrific job although Audrey Elizabeth Evans as Peggy was the real standout to me. That kiddo was frightening.
One issue for me is, I think, more a marketing point that anything else. The movie’s blurb states that they are being hunted by a lunatic redneck from Arkansas. Now, I’m from Alabama and I know a redneck when I see one and this guy wasn’t so much a redneck as he was a good ole boy gone horribly diabolical. This is a minor detail but I went in expecting one kind of experience and came out with an entirely different kind.
Another minor sticking point for me was Peggy’s character arc. Peggy is the 13 year old daughter of the “lunatic redneck”. Her mother died when she was five and her daddy’s been homeschooling her ever since (homeschooling including taking her to the woods and teaching her survival skills and lord knows what else. I shudder to think of it.) Peggy is super quiet and seems incredibly shy although in reality hers is more of a beaten down mentality. When her father starts hunting down our four “heroes”, Peggy mostly stays out of the way but she does go totally psycho baby beyotch on one of the girls. However by the end, she’s done a 180 and has accepted help from one of the other campers. (I’m trying not to put too many spoilers in here!). While the turnaround is entirely believable given that she’s an abused child, it also felt like the lead up to it wasn’t given enough time. I think if there had been less of the survival reality show bits at the beginning and a little more time given to her thought processes, it would have been perfect. But they did well with what they had and there’s a particularly sad and poignant moment where Peggy is glimpsing a world she’s never been a part of that tugs at the heartstrings.
Speaking of the survival reality show, while it seemed to go one forever, it seemed fairly realistic too (as compared to things like “Man vs. Wild”) and some of the tips given seemed like they could be accurate which was an excellent touch. One thing that was a bit too accurate for my personal tastes was the preparing and skinning of a rabbit for dinner. Gory stuff typically doesn’t bother me but the realism here made me cringe and had me very squeamish.
And speaking of squeamish, I think we can all agree that a movie like this needs its quota of T&A, right? It’s to be expected and sometimes that’s why we watch in the first place (admit it; you know it’s true ;)). So while I was expecting some brief nudity and a gratuitous sex scene what I got instead rivaled a soft core porno. I’m by no means a prude but seriously, for a minute, I was afraid that the film had taken an unfortunate turn into silly porno flick territory. Luckily, after several minutes it pulled itself back into survivalist terror but wow. Nice and good looking naked people though with some really sweet tattoos. Just be forewarned when you watch.
So overall, while this wasn’t my cup of tea, for the right audience it certainly is a solid flick with just a few minor issues. The cinematography is great and there are some exceptional forest shots with light coming through the leaves. The actors are all fairly solid in their characters also. If you’d like to find out more about The Art of Survival you can check them out at IMDB.