This article was last modified on October 10, 2020.


NIGHTSTREAM review: SURVIVAL SKILLS

Survival Skills is a lost training video from the late 1980s. In it, Jim (Vayu O’Donnell, CELL), the perfect policeman, gets in over his head when he tries to resolve a domestic violence case outside the law.

Before getting in the film as a whole, it must be said that Stacy Keach as the host and narrator was a great choice. He isn’t given much to do as far as acting, but his very presence and voice is right match for a police training video. For many, they may best associate Keach as the warden from PRISON BREAK, and he adds a serving of star power to this picture.

The concept is a great idea. There are now entire film festivals devoted to “found footage,” which may be home movies or may be old VHS tapes that are incredibly dated. Look no further than the art collective Everything is Terrible. So creating a fictional video emulating such nonsense is a wise decision – there is much unintentional humor to mine there.

However, the execution is uneven. Some of the aesthetics are spot on, and O’Donnell is a great comedic lead. The mention of Satanic elements is highly amusing (and as someone who grew up in the era, I can confirm the fear was very real). Overall, the movie is quite enjoyable. But other times it deviates from this central conceit. Jim’s home life is presented, which makes sense in a normal movie, but seems out of place for a training film. Attempts to flesh out Jim take away from the idea that he is presented as a two-dimensional archetype.

Moreover, the script could have used another round of review and edits that bring it more in line with the 1980s. Anachronisms are going to happen in any period piece, and can sometimes be done intentional for humor value, but here some of the phrases just come across as too modern. Within the first five minutes, Jim says “I surely don’t,” which jumped out at me as misplaced. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong.) This took me out of the illusion.

This is not a perfect film. It is not even a great film. Much of it feels padded to create a feature length, when perhaps it should not have run over 60 minutes. But there is still enough here to enjoy that I would not dismiss it out of hand. Everyone involved is clearly very talented, but maybe just need another shot to hone their skills.

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