A terrible plane crash ferries almost a hundred people to the great beyond, but one woman manages to survive unscathed. While she initially sees the event as a mere coincidence, strange occurrences after the crash force her to wonder if she was worthy enough to be the sole survivor. These events turn even more sinister when she becomes convinced that death itself is out to collect the soul he was cheated by her survival. With the help of a very washed-up, evidently psychic actress, Denise struggles to stay one step ahead of death and its ghoulish minions.
If the central conceit of this film sounds eerily familiar to you, it’s no surprise. Sole Survivor later found itself remade as Final Destination, and of course by remade I obviously mean shamelessly ripped off. Now granted, Sole Survivor is itself a remake of Australia’s The Survivor (1981) so I’m not asserting its originality by any means. But at least Sole Survivor openly admits to being a remake where Final Destination makes no such concession. In terms of expression of concept, I much prefer Sole Survivor to Final Destination. The idea that death travels through the bodies of the recently deceased to try and reclaim Denise is far more interesting than death as a mean kid constantly setting up obnoxious Rube Goldberg devices that end in sensational, but ultimately empty, deaths. That being said, Sole Survivor is pretty empty in the middle.
The film’s opening is quite spectacular and ratchets up the tension fairly quickly. The supernatural elements that immediately follow are impressively effective and suggest a movie far more exciting than the next seventy minutes provides. The film drags like its toting an entire three-ring circus on its back. The doldrums are sporadically interrupted by creepy ambiance or satisfyingly bloody kills, but overall the pacing is a joke. I don’t mind that the love story angle is contrived, it actually makes for an emotionally poignant moment near the end, but it contributes heavily to the film’s general lack of snappiness.
That being said, I dig the ending quite a bit. It affords the washed-up actress character, who’d frankly been an irritating gimmick up to that point, a nice little moment. The full realization of concept without copping out is commendable. There are some serious questions raised about the quality of forensic police work and postmortem investigation in the 80s, but how can you not love bodies rising from the slab? Sole Survivor was directed by Tom Eberhardt who also directed the masterfully uneven (read weirdly awesome) Night of the Comet. I only wish the clunky structure of Sole Survivor was due to, as is the case with Night of the Comet, an interesting tonal shift and not simply jerky pacing.
I get the distinct impression that the crowd enjoyed Sole Survivor far more than I did. I’m not so arrogant that I expect a room full of people to fall in line with my perception of the film week in and week out. There were laughs, groans, and cheers echoing all around me. Not to say I didn’t find anything to enjoy about Sole Survivor, I just wish I could have been watching the film they were because it seemed like a lot more fun.