Review: Survival Skills

Quinn Armstrong’s Survival Skills was my favourite movie at this year’s Fantasia Fest.

Rather than being a straight-up horror, Survival Skills is more a voyage into the New Weird – think internet favourites like Too Many Cooks, or Unedited Footage of a Bear. The narrative is presented as a training video for new police recruits, together with a reassuringly paternal introduction and voiceover from a kindly paternal figure in the form of Stacey Keach.

But as the video’s cheerily fictional ‘Officer Jim’ sets about his first year on the force, he gets drawn into a domestic violence incident, and things start to derail in unsettling, wall-breaking ways. Officer Jim starts to make some well-meaning off-piste choices, with increasingly unwanted consequences. Not even Stacey Keach might be able to get him through this one, no matter how much he tries to rewind the video (a la Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.)

Based on writer-director Quinn Armstrong’s real-life experiences working with domestic violence cases, Survival Skills is a stunning film that uses its reality-warping framework to explore real moral issues, and deliver a genuine emotional punch. Funny, psychotic, creative, moving, unsettling… this had me hooked to the end.

A moment when Officer Jim’s girlfriend recounts a dream was particuarly unnerving, getting out into pure David Lynch territory.

If you’re a fan of the weird and uncanny, any chance you get to check out Survival Skills – take it.

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