Friday, May 29, 2015

"Survivor" depicts a rather unbelievable New Year's terror plot, but the ending echoes "Strange Days"

Survivor” (2015, directed by James McTeigue and written by Philip Shelby) is a fast-paced thriller about counter terrorism, but it pulls too many coincidental punches to be believable. 
Kate Abbott (Mila Jovovich) is a foreign service officer with a lot of non-European language skills and hints of CIA connects, assigned to the US embassy in London to help with security. Soon she screens a supposed physician Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) and becomes suspicious. Though the embassy employees don’t share her concerns, she persists.  Balan builds a plastic bomb and tries to use it to kill her when she is eating at a nearby restaurant.  She survives, and in a rather improbable chain, is framed for the death of another visitor.  In saving herself, she uncovers a plot to create a huge natural gas explosion at Times Square in New York on New Years Eve, the details of which really seem impossible to pull off.   
There is also another subplot, to create stock market chaos on the first day after New Year’s and profit from massive short selling. The opening of the film shows a captured Green Beret in Afghanistan being burned alive by Taliban captors, but the soldier’s companion is kept alive and tortured. The film implies that the soldier is the doctor’s son, and that the “doctor” went on a rampage of assassination to pay ransom to the terrorists in Afghanistan to save his son.
The film (indoors shot in Bulgaria) often gives a handsome look at modern downtown London.  The acting and chase style is that of many 80s and 90s thrillers. 
The official site is here (Millennium films).  The movie has a very limited theatrical release, as I saw it at AMC Hoffman in Alexandria., before a modest audience.  The audience seemed to agree that the plot was very improbable.  It was probably financed  (with a lot of Canadian backing) for quick DVD and streaming release.
This film should not be confused by a 2014 film of the same title by John Lyde, about a crashing landing on an alien planet. 
The countdown scene on New Year’s Eve in NYC reminds me a similar scene near the end of “Strange Days” (1995) by Kathryn Bigelow, with New Years Eve 2000 set in Los Angeles.  In that film, (with Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett) there is the plot device of mind reading (or hacking) and wireless transfer to other people wearing the same device. This is a riveting film (one of the best from the 90s). When I saw it at Pentagon City in Arlington, the film broke 20 minutes before the end, and I went later to see the end, although people were discussing the ending on AOL message boards at the time. 
Remember that a real terror plot on the West Coast was intercepted New Years Eve 2000. 

Picture: Times Square, Dec. 1, 2011, my visit.

Note: "San Andreas" is reviewed on my "Films on Major Threats to Freedom" blog May 30.

Update:  Aug 24, 2019:  Here is a discussion  from TIFF of how the SQUID technology in the movie works.  The subject wears a hidden device that records her sensation.  Then a second person who gets the headset player ("Google glasses" or something like Ocular VR used by NYTimes 360degree films) can recreate the sensation, and that could cause brain death if overdone. Wikipedia explains it here.  There is also the idea that someone can be "upset" if exposed to certain documents or ideas or images (New Zealand incident.) 

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