When you’re dealing with a micro-budget horror, you’ve gotta let a few things slide. However in the case of Survival Knife, things are slipping off the screen. There are so many Dutch angles, it’s almost like we should review this on a 45° slant.
We get tilted tombstones, tilted intersections, tilted stripper poles, tilted stairs — and when our star knocks over a pickle jar in her kitchen — that. It’s beyond annoying. What should be a tool in your toolkit shouldn’t become the whole box.
Survival Knife is a reference to The Survivalist, a serial killer who’s terrorizing Pittsburgh via the “survival knife killings…” We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that no maniac on the loose in an urban center will ever be called a “survivalist,” as cities are the antithesis of that concept. Nobody urban is a hunter and gatherer, living off the land (Detroit residents excepted. We kid. We like The D.)
Anyway, the movie’s not about him (a shame too, as the Survivalist Killer’s got a neat aesthetic: a skull mask biker bandanna and a Stahlhelm World War II helmet). It’s about Penny, a girl who escaped the guy’s clutches in an abandoned steel mill, escaping with a bum knee and partial vision in her eye.
We get her story via flashbacks, and things about her aren’t what they seem as Penny becomes the subject of much media scrutiny.
Survival Knife’s opener is fantastic. You can feel the rust and decay of those opening frames, with the Dutch angles working in its favor. And the guerrilla-style shot of her limping into the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (obviously done sans permit) is pretty compelling.
However it’s the silliness and the gimmickry that takes away from what could be a compelling narrative structure – the terrible CG blood and the giant subtitles when we’re inside The Cricket, a strip club where our hero used to work pre-incident. The devil is in the details and there’s a scene where a local reporter, trying to get a handle on what’s happening to the lone survivor, has a button on her blouse unfastened.
It’s sloppy stuff.
Danielle Donahue does what she can as our lead, but isn’t given much support by her cast-mates.
** (out of 5)