Monday, December 12, 2022

The First Destination

If you're like me, the title Sole Survivor calls to mind two things:

1- the unrelated '90s homonymically titled plural version mostly known for having the most Scream-ish poster of post-Scream horror

2- that many a film fan shouts "Final Destination ripped this off!"

Had anyone added "written and directed by Night of the Comet's Thom Eberhardt, it wouldn't have taken me 40 years to watch. 

Quick Plot: Denise is happily navigating her late twenties. An inheritance has left her with a lovely, wackily decorated house. She seems quite adept at her career behind the scenes of television commercials, the latest of which stars Karla Davis, a past-her-prime former starlet with a touch of ESP. 

Karla has a vision right before Denise takes a plane trip, though it's too late (and Karla comes off as too crazy) to help. Denise's plane goes down, but as you might have guessed by this film's title, she makes it out not only alive, but barely touched. 

Her new handsome and single doctor has some concerns about how Denise is processing the trauma, but what can you say? She's young, healthy, attractive, and ready to move on (literally, in the case of her hot doc). But there is something nagging at her, a feeling that she got away with an act of rebellion and that she'll have to pay up.

Said suspicions are validated over the next few days. First come the just-missed-being-accidently-crushed-to-death misses, then the walking corpses, and finally, the homicidal stabbing corpses. We don't need Tony Todd to tell us Denise's worries are well-founded. 

Sole Survivor was made in 1984, but it feels so much like a product of the 1970s, more akin to your Let's Scare Jessica to Deaths and Messiah of Evils than any slasher of its era (save for some randomly inserted strip poker nudity featuring a young Brinke Stevens). While the tone doesn't at first glance share any of Night of the Comet's apocalyptic bubblegum, you can see how both are the work of one mind, primarily in the characterization of their heroines.

Anita Skinner's Denise is such a refreshing lead. Professional in her work and playful in her downtime, she's quite the rarity in '80s horror: a fully realized female adult. Skinner's only other film credit is the excellent, underrated Girlfriends, and it's shocking that her Denise is just as developed as her Alice in that dramedy. We're used to horror pulling us into the final girl's plight by pure instinctive sympathy for an ingenue, but Eberhardt does something different, letting us get to know an actual human being who's so real that we absolutely have to care about her. 

It doesn't quite move the way you expect it to, and while the Final Destination connection is certainly there in plot, the tone is nowhere close. It's playful in a different way, letting us fall into Denise's life in a way that we feel like we're her friend, then making us all the more spooked by her new fate. The actual zombie-like death harbingers are uniquely unsettling, especially when the film goes the extra step in explaining the actual biology behind it. 

This isn't the scariest film of its time, but there's a whole lot to love to love here, and I imagine, much like Eberhardt's other films, I'll enjoy it even more on rewatch. 

High Points
Skinner is fabulous and it's a shame we didn't get her in more movies. I would also credit Eberhardt deeply for the simple decision to make a horror film about adults. It's ridiculously refreshing to have grownups with jobs, homes, and life experience. 

Low Points
I suppose Sole Survivor's pacing might be a little slow for some viewers expecting more scares (though I wasn't one of them)

Lessons Learned
All civil service bullshit is the same

Not all morticians eat sloppy sandwiches. Some just smoke cigarettes and drink coffee

Always listen to the alcoholic has-been, even if she can't get her lines right

I adored this movie, but it's definitely one that might not fit whatever mold you're expecting. Go in fresh and open and enjoy. It's (FINALLY) available now to stream on Shudder. 


  1. I feel like there's also a clear line from this one to It Follows.

    1. DEFINITELY! Good call! I didn't think of it when watching but now that you say it, totally.