Be it the feeling of atmospheric isolation, reconnecting with primal instincts, or the pervasive insignificance of human existence, something about venturing into the wilderness clicks so very well with thriller narratives that survival suspense tales have become a genre in themselves. Away from urban security, the tales plunge viewers into a world of uncertainty where unbound human nature shows its true face, and before we know it, the setting becomes the intangible antagonist the leads need to conquer. The recently released survival thriller River Wild, which is a remake of the much superior original one, although not the best venture the subgenre has to offer, follows the basic tenets of it in showcasing the perilous misadventure of a group of campers.
We would like to recommend some other great survival thrillers that you can enjoy if River Wild has piqued your interest in the subgenre. A couple of these might have a supernatural element added to the narrative, but that’s no reason to omit them, given that these are some of the best the subgenre has to offer.
Eden Lake (2008)
Starting off the list with the underrated British thriller Eden Lake, a tale of survival through possibly the worst-case scenario of a romantic vacation gone wrong, Starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as the leads, Steve and Jenny, the movie follows the couple as they move into a restricted quarry-turned-lakeside cabin in a rural English setting to spend their weekend in seclusion. Things start going south as the couple get into an argument with a gang of local ruffian teenagers led by a sadistic rich brat named Brett, which leads to Brett’s crew pestering them relentlessly. As the couple decides to take a stand, the reality of being hopelessly outnumbered by a gang of miscreants strikes them hard, and what was supposed to be a weekend to remember soon spirals into their worst nightmare.
Without spoiling much, we can say the ending of the movie will surprise viewers without resorting to any twists or such gimmicks. The Anushka Sharma-starring Bollywood movie NH10 was loosely based on the narrative structure of Eden Lake but brilliantly appropriated from it to imbue it with very real Indian societal problems.
Wolf Creek (2005)
It is often jokingly said that the ecosystem in Australia is turned on its head, given how many potentially bizarre and dangerous creatures inhabit the country. However, when it comes to the capacity for absolute evil, none other than humans can claim the title of most dangerous creature, which is masterfully showcased in the Australian outdoor thriller Wolf Creek. Three friends, Liz, Kristy, and Ben, travel through the Australian outback while being forced to take a halt after their car breaks down in Wolf Creek National Park. A friendly bushman named Mick Taylor comes to their aid, and through a course of events, the group learns the significance of the proverbial warning about strangers. This harrowing tale of brutality was inspired by the backpacker serial killer Ivan Milat.
No genre list is complete without this classic being mentioned, and even after five decades of being released, Deliverance has managed to hold its position pinnacle of the genre. The story takes four friends, so-called ‘city folk,’ into the Georgian wilderness, and their journey begins in a pretty docile manner. The situation escalates quickly in the wrong direction as they come across some brutish mountain men who are, safe to say, not really fond of the strange city dwellers. There is a pretty repulsive sequence in the movie that isn’t for the faint-hearted and has been parodied in multiple other pop culture references, but the movie is much more than that. The movie questions the so-called urban man’s position when he is moved away from his comfort zone and examines the class conflict in a subtle way as well. The impact of the movie as a wilderness thriller is realized after seeing how it caused a massive boom in tourism in Georgia.
We can’t simply talk about survival thrillers without mentioning the masterpiece of a movie that is Descent, although it veers more into the horror genre. A group of six women comes up with a plan to go spelunking in Appalachian Mountain caves in order to help one of the group members deal with her grief, but they are put in a perilous situation as the cave system collapses behind them, leaving no way for rescue to reach them. The claustrophobic situation starts doing a number on the group members’ minds, but soon they realize that being stuck is the least of their problems when the presence of something sinister is observed by them. By far, this was and still is the most progressive, unique, and challenging take on the genre with an all-female cast, and the presence of the supernatural doesn’t detract even the minimum of its credibility as a brilliant survival tale.
There is nothing better than extreme natural locations putting actors in visible discomfort to get immersed in the spectacle, and Arctic is a prime example of that, pitting the human spirit against the brutal whims of nature. Bare minimum dialogue, much more physical acting, and crushing, silent loneliness take center stage, which makes the experience even more palpable. A reticent Mads Mikkelsen stars as the stranded pilot Overgård, whose plane has crashed in the Arctic and whose daily effort to seek rescue has turned into failure. When a plane finally arrives, it crashes, leaving a female passenger as the only grievously injured survivor. Language differences result in communication barriers between the duo, and Overgård decides that to save the woman’s life, he will resort to trekking. What follows is an emotional, unexpected journey across one of the world’s most insurmountable, uncompromising locations, which makes viewers feel a sense of wonder and dread at the same time.
Rescue Dawn (2006)
Werner Herzog’s biographical survival drama Rescue Dawn is as much a story of hope and inspiration as it is a tragic tale of survival. Christian Bale is often referred to as the Master of Physical (and, of course, mental) transformation, which he undertakes to adapt to the demanding, varied roles in his movies, and as a POW of the Vietnam War, it was more evident than ever. As a tortured captive combat pilot, Dieter Dengler (played by Bale) orchestrates an escape attempt to free his compatriots and former prisoners but soon realizes his optimism will be tested in worse ways than he had imagined as punishment for the warmongering, meddling state he represents is enough to break the spirit of the strongest hearts.
Undoubtedly, there are a larger number of movies of this subgenre we couldn’t mention, but they deserve every bit of attention from the viewers, as they greatly showcase how diverse this particular category can be when it comes to adapting narratives.