22nd Jan2018

‘Surviving the Wild’ Review

by Philip Rogers

Stars: Jon Voight, Aidan Cullen, Jamie Kennedy, Vail Bloom, Derick Van Orden, Matthew Davis, Sheri Carbone, Susan Coleman | Written by Mark Hefti | Directed by Patrick Alessandrin


Following the death of Gus (Jon Voight), his grandson Shaun (Aidan Cullen) can’t seem to let go. So when Gus appears at his own reception, unstartled by his unexpected appearance Shaun takes the opportunity to rekindle his relationship. Although he remains imperceptible to everyone apart from Shaun and his dog, Gus is able to interact once more offering guidance and telling jokes as if he never left.

It was always planned that Shaun would go on a trek with his grandfather to the top of a remote mountain, and inspired by Gus returning Shaun decides to complete the journey himself, taking with him his grandfather’s ashes. Although the idea is quickly dismissed by his father Kristopher (Jamie Kennedy) and mother Rachel (Vail Bloom), a headstrong and determined Shaun is remains determined go on his. After lying to his parents, he takes his grandfather’s ashes before setting off on an expedition with his old dog Riley and with the spirit of Gus to help guide him along the way. Shaun soon finds himself negotiating a beautiful but treacherous wilderness fraught with danger, including white water rapids, wild animals and two crazed hillbillies who have picked up on his trail.

Surviving the Wild is a coming of age drama from Patrick Alessandrin, which will naturally attract interest with the inclusion of Oscar winner Jon Voight who is perfectly cast as Gus. However, it is a solid performance by his young co-star Aidan Cullen who really impresses as the films lead. Mark Hefti’s script adds plenty of humour in the film, with some of the funniest moments coming from Gus as he narrates to Aiden about how the people are reacting to his death, whilst everyone else remains oblivious to his presence. It is the delivering by Jon with an amusing and charismatic charm, which still manages to retain that kind-hearted grandfather figure, who has kept his high-spirited humour despite passing away.

Aidan shows a real maturity in his performance. A monologue scene where he records himself on his phone explaining what he is going to do is a powerful moment and really show what a talent he is going to be. The strongest scenes in the film however are when Aidan is interacting with the veteran Jon Voight, where they seem to have a natural chemistry as they play off each other during the scenes.

Whilst dealing with the characters, the film gives the viewer some majestic views throughout the film. Depicting the rivers, mountains and forests with some amazing visual shots which help to show vast beauty of nature, but also the dangers. In one of my favourite scenes Shaun barely makes it back to the bank safely, after accidently falling into the water rapids which dragged him down the river. The terror of situation causes a moment uncertainty, for Shaun who lays cold, wet and exhausted, unsure as to whether he can carry on. Gus appears by his side and with a caring assertion tries to motivate Shaun to keep going, whilst forcing him to think for himself and remember the steps he has to take in order to survive. Gus is there to motivate Shaun. But, in another way, he is also allowing him to think for himself stand on his own to help him let go.

Although Surviving the Wild has a lot to offer with so much going on, one of the drawbacks is the subplots which distracts from the main core of the story. The sub plot regarding the divorce of his parents is only covered sparsely and it seems that a lot of the actions sequences are used only to keep the younger audiences entertained. Also, the introduction of the hillbillies so late in the story feels as though it was only added to create further tension and is somewhat misplaced compared to the rest of the film.

Surviving the Wild is an entertaining family movie, which manages to capture some amazing performances on screen from the leading cast. I would like to have seen the film concentrate more on the relationship with Gus and Shaun on their journey, as I feel this was where the film really excelled. The film provides yet another great role for Jon Voight who delivers a memorable performance once again, but the most impressive performance in the film comes from Aidan Cullen who really excels in the role and is someone worth watching out for in the future.


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