As I’ve stated before, writer/director Thom Eberhardt is a very overlooked and underutilized filmmaker. His 1984 horror-comedy Night of the Comet has become a cult classic over the years, but his first project, Sole Survivor, released the same year, is a straight-up horror film. Though it has a much smaller budget, Eberhardt refuses to succumb to his circumstances. Instead he makes one of the best low-budget horrors you’ll ever see.
Sole Survivor opens with a woman phoning some TV executive telling him not to let his producer, Denise Watson (Anita Skinner), board her flight that morning because of a vision she had that saw the plane go down. We find out later that the woman on the phone is struggling actress Karla Davis (Caren Larkey) whose career has taken a turn for the worse after she started experiencing psychic visions. Everyone in Hollywood started thinking she was crazy, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to save people’s lives.
We soon discover that Karla’s vision comes true. The plane crashes and everyone on board dies, except for Denise. In fact, she has no injuries whatsoever. After being rushed to the hospital, her doctor Brian (Kurt Johnson) warns her about Survivor’s Guilt, but Denise assures him that she doesn’t have it.
And then strange things start happening. Denise almost gets run over by a semi truck, and strange, zombie like people keep appearing wherever she goes. Brian, who eventually becomes her love interest, is convinced that she’s hallucinating, but she knows she’s not just seeing things.
Eberhardt, who also pens the script, crafts a deceptively intricate plot that masks itself as a simple one. As a director, his pacing is nearly-immaculate as he builds the suspense. His film slowly adds creepy moments into the normality until the creepy and the normality blend together so seamlessly that you don’t know how you even got there. Complimented by David F. Anthony’s sinister score, which builds right alongside it with simple, yet effective motifs–a la John Williams’ Jaws.
Sole Survivor also provides somewhat of an interesting character study. In a film filled with dark, depressing circumstances, Skinner brings an authentic human quality and sense of hopefulness, even amidst her crisis. A hopefulness that could realistically be present in a person who was the sole survivor of a plane crash.
Horror movies are often defined by their conclusions. The film’s final act closes out the story well and doesn’t disappoint at all and we get a sense of resolve from the questions we’ve accumulated.
Sole Survivor is a horror movie with mystique. Strange things are happening even when we aren’t sure why. Eberhardt keeps us at a distance, but never leaves us stranded there. He earns our trust that we’ll get a proper payoff in the end. And when it happens, it’s extremely satisfying.