Writer: Steve Lawson
Producer: Steve Lawson
Cast: Helen Crevel, Andrew Coughlan, Jay Sutherland
Reviewed from: cast and crew screening
[NB. I saw a preview of this film under its shooting title of Rites of Passage. It was retitled Survival Instinct for its limited theatrical release before becoming Footsoldier on DVD. - MJS]
This is the first feature for some time from Steve Lawson, previously known for directing micro-budget actioners like The Silencer and Insiders (and not for directing stuff like Dead Cert and Just for the Record – that’s a different Steve Lawson). After some years in the corporate-video wilderness, Steve is back in narrative feature land with his first entry in the British Horror Revival. And it’s a real pleasure to announce that the wait was worth it. This is not only Steve’s best film by a significant margin, it’s also one of the best low-budget British horrors I’ve seen for some time.
At its heart, Survival Instinct is yet another film about a psycho with a hunting rifle chasing a pretty girl in a dress through deciduous woodland. It’s a prevalent subgenre, as we all know. But Steve manages to wring something new out of the set-up through the twin barrels of plot and character.
The set-up is that Thom’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and a terrible accident leads to a situation where Weaver needs to make sure that Stacey tells no-one about what she has seen. As a game of cat and mouse develops, Weaver becomes more and more obsessed, determined to track down and eliminate the troublesome girl.
It’s in the first act that Survival Instinct marks itself out as well above the common level of this sort of film. It’s easy to have a random girl spending random time in the woods where she crosses the path of a random psycho. Indeed, that pretty much sums up Steve Lawson's previous toe-in-the-water of the horror genre, his 1998 shot-on-VHS short Dead Lane, which has a similar initial set-up to Rites. The violin was a folder of confidential business documents, the 'pretty girl in a dress' was Steve himself in a slightly too big suit, and the psycho in that instance was a completely random serial killer guy.
Stacy herself is no damsel in distress nor (thank God) some pot-smoking idiot teenager. She’s an intelligent and resourceful young woman, but without ever tuning into some sort of rural Ellen Ripley. There’s a fantastic moment when she looks like she might be turning the tables on Weaver but we, because as an audience we have a privileged view of proceedings, are nowhere near as confident as she is.
The film uses its locations well: the lonely country lane, the trees, the stream and its ancient bridge, an old garage and – in the third act – an unstaffed rural industrial estate which ably takes the cat and mouse game indoors. Throughout all this, Stacy keeps a hold on her (very valuable) instrument.
Sutherland has less to do (for reasons which I don’t want to spoil here) but is thoroughly believable in the role. Cited by many as One To Watch, Sutherland’s feature credits include a brace of Jonathan Sothcott pictures: Simon Phillips’ Riot and Stephen Reynolds’ Danny Dyer thriller Vendetta. He was in acclaimed Arthurian fantasy short Arthur’s Lore and also made something called Zombie Defence for the same guys. More recently he has made upcoming British war/horror feature The Fourth Reich. And mention must also be made of Sam Smith’s vital supporting role, delivered with very little dialogue but a lot of facial expressions (for reference this is not the Sam Smith who is in Wondrous Oblivion, nor is it the one who was in Bane and The Witches Hammer). Glenn Salvage (Left for Dead, Underground, The Silencer) provides a telephone voice in one scene while Isabella Nash is the bride-to-be.
Simon Wyndham, who co-directed Insiders and The Silencer with Steve, provided some Steadicam assistance on his film. Kelly Webster handled the make-up effects, including a rather nasty foot injury. Leicester’s own Alex Young, who has previously scored various video games, was responsible for the brilliantly effective music which adds greatly to the tension.
MJS rating: A