Survival Skills is a training video straight out of the 1980s. At least, it is aesthetically. Screening at this year’s all virtual Fantasia Film Festival, the 2020 movie is about a new police officer named Jim. He is the subject of of the training video. One day, he is called to a domestic violence dispute. What he sees changes Jim’s life and the direction of the video.
On the surface, the joke seems obvious. Pictures of Ronald Regan are seen everywhere, the tracking on the video seems off, and the Narrator (Stacy Keach) uses over the top platitudes to describe situations. It soon becomes clear Survival Skills is much more. Jim cannot let the domestic call left unresolved. The wife who is being beaten is clearly covering for her husband. Meanwhile, the Narrator tries to have Jim move on to less troublesome cases. After all, this is not a video about domestic abuse.
It is an interesting tactic from director Quinn Armstrong. The opening of Survival Skills leads the audience to believe they are in for a nostalgia filled comedy. The last thing anyone watching would expect is a movie about the horrors of domestic violence. Survival Skills can easily fail. The style of the film can be seen as a gimmick to cover a weak story. That is absolutely not the case here. The story tackles a serious issue head on. The actual abuse is not taken lightly and the surprising turn the movie takes draws the audience in.
There are many factors that allow domestic violence to continue. There are the victims who are afraid to talk and the police who do nothing. Survival Skills shows the cops who are too jaded and the ones who do not feel it is their place to get involved. The movie has a powerful point to make. It will catch audiences off guard how effectively it is done.
Survival Skills seems like a silly movie that is there to fill VHS nostalgia. It easily succeeds in this front. The film constantly skips and anyone watching will want to fix the tracking the entire time. This is more than just a basic story papered over by a filmmaking gimmick, however. It also tells a surprisingly deep story and is one of the most unique films of the year.