Indicative of Don Coscarelli's self-professed fascination with survivalist techniques and the philosophies and internal motivations that drive the often fanatical folks behind them, Survival Quest is both a reaffirmation of and departure from the director's horror fare. Terror of a different sort if emphasized here -- horror of a very natural, pertinent type. The apprehension is so palpable that one can almost touch it. A very different sensibility rages throughout this film, as realism replaces the fantastical elements often distinguishing the director's work. Despite the marked difference in naturalist setting and realism, the director's eye is clearly evidenced behind the camera in inventive compositions, and in the tight relationship between characters. This is very much a Coscarelli film, but one that -- dare I say it? -- cuts closer to the bone than even his more recognized supernatural films if only by the intensity of the action and emotional depth of characters.

A rip-roaring thriller that plays to both the heart and the mind, Survival Quest is structured like a pulp-thriller from days of old, with an ever present sensation of danger coursing through its dramatic set-ups like red hot blood. Each major scene is punctuated by a cliff hanger-like push that leaves one wanting to see more while ample attention is paid to character development, lending the entire drama a sense of meaning often lacking in the adventure formula. When five characters from the city meet for the weekend to take a survival course taught by weathered Lance Henricksen (one of the great underrated actors of all time), they end up squaring off against death! As this motley crew wait for their chartered plane, they get to know one another: there is an angry divorcee, an irritating jokester, a clich´┐Ż spoiled rich girl, a kindly old fellow (the paternal character), and an ex-convict. This group expects to spend four weeks of military-like survival training. They aren't expecting a battle to the death against both the elements and another group of survivalists. This other group takes the whole experience too seriously, and soon the pride of both Hank (Henriksen) and Jake (leader of the other group) culminates in a terror-driven fight for life itself.

Survival Quest digs deep into both the beauty and ugliness of Nature --- both our cruel very human nature and the contradictory wonders/dangers of our natural environment. Neither condemning or celebrating the violence of both, Coscarelli is content (and smart enough) to simply depict them as they are, somewhere between glory and despair, ugliness and grace. As the title suggests, survival is the name of the game, and it is interesting to note that the characters struggle as hard to understand themselves -- and survive each other -- as they do the threats of the wilderness/others. In this, the picture is mature and intelligent, injecting its break-neck action sequences with startlingly brief yet powerful philosophical underpinning. When all is said and one, though, this is first and foremost an action flick that moves at a stealthy pace once the characterization is established. A natural storyteller, the director takes time to build his characters, but when things get heated up, we're left with a cataclysm of violence. If the us-against-them mentality is somewhat over simplistic, one need only look at our world's wars to see how easily conflicts explode based on similar absurdities. In this, the film strikes a sense of truth. From a purely escapist perspective, we're whipped into a desire to see the 'villains' get theirs. Stunning shots of mountains, precipices, and forest evoke timelessness, announcing our smallness and emotional insecurity. The climax has us cheering our heroes and booing the lesser defined and, to be honest, over-simplified 'evil' survivalists. While more emphasis on the motivations of these characters would have lent further complexity to the plot, the story as is summons breath-taking emotion.

Survival Quest is featured by Anchor Bay in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is clean, without grain, showing only light traces of wear. Images are bright and colorful, capturing the primal beauty of the wilderness. A nice balance of depth is captured throughout. Dolby Digital audio is featured in both 2.0 Stereo and a 5.1 Dolby Digital, resulting in a wonderful blend of dramatic (if somewhat generic) music and natural sound. Extras are less impressive, limited to 'Behind the Scenes' footage which is little more than home video material (lacking narration) and the usual slew of trailers. A minor complaint for an otherwise fine package.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay USA
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review