In 1981 there were sky-high hopes for plane crash thriller The Survivor, which, coming in at a total of one million Australian dollars, became the country’s most expensive film. But what could have boosted the flagging national industry crashed and burned instead, with disappointing critical reception and box office sales.
Bizarrely, rather than use the country’s home-grown talent The Survivor is based on a book by British author James Herbert, has a British director (David Hemmings) at the helm and two British actors (Robert Powell and Jenny Agutter) in the lead roles.
Powell’s chiselled features are put to nearly as good a use here as they are in Jesus of Nazareth (1977) in his role as a pilot who wakes up in hospital to discover he is the sole survivor of a plane crash. The victims’ families, the press and officials carrying out an inquiry into the crash quickly make him the scapegoat, especially as he’s conveniently suffering from memory loss, but things take an eerie turn when a woman called Hobbs (Jenny Agutter, dressed in Railway Children-era garb) turns up to claim the victims are trying to make contact with the living. Tortured by the knowledge of how many people he might have killed and desperate to remember what happened on the ill-fated journey, he puts logic aside to ask for her help.
Disappointingly, after a promising start the plot moves at the rate of a taxiing plane rather than one in mid-flight, and instead of showing off the film’s flash budget, most of the action takes place in near-complete darkness. However, an eerie score by Brian May (another Brit) and some intensely creepy moments involving the ghost of a young girl killed in the crash warrant the film’s recent survival onto DVD format and save it from becoming a complete disaster.