Chris Knight: Survival Box is a rather dull tale of staying alive at the end of the world

Such movies can go far on strong characters, but this septet have so little to differentiate them I kept wondering who was who

Survival Box is the first feature from director William Scoular. LevelFilm

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True story: Growing up during the Cold War, I would sometimes panic if the TV station I was watching suffered technical difficulties. I would immediately switch to another channel broadcasting from the same city, to confirm that New York or Buffalo hadn’t been hit with a Soviet first strike.

That kind of readiness to believe the worst is on display in Survival Box, a first feature from director William Scoular. Seven young people are having a house party in the basement/bomb shelter of a Philadelphia mansion when the power fails and the level seals itself off from the world outside. Immediately and with remarkable calmness, they conclude that civilization has ended, and set about making the most of their nine months’ worth of supplies.

They are three brothers, three unrelated women, and Travis, a gay man who complains that even the apocalypse turns out to be heteronormative. It’s one of the few lines that strikes sparks in this rather dull tale of survival. For weeks at a time not much seems to happen, as the subtitles click forward like daylight saving time run amok. Day 38, 59, 104, 217. You might expect hair growth, slovenliness, emotional degradation, but you’d be disappointed.

Josh (Jake Kenny-Byrne) has repeated dreams of running outside. Amy (Tori Khalil) grows larger, having revealed in the very early days that she’s pregnant. Eldest brother Scott (Adam Moryto) leaves and doesn’t come back. But there’s little else to interest viewers, aside from the fact that pragmatist Kit (Maria José Zuniga) is accused of stealing food from the communal stores.

End-of-the-world movies like the recent Light of My Life or the excellent Level 16 can go far on strong characters, but Survival Box’s septet have so little to differentiate them that I kept struggling to recall who was who, and how they had pair-bonded. Mere survival may be enough of an objective when the world seems to have shut down, but cinema needs a loftier goal.

2 stars

Survival Box opens Aug. 16 in Toronto.

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