Survive review – a serialized action-adventure without tension or suspense

April 23, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
TV, TV Reviews


Survive‘s theme of mental health within its action-adventure storyline is as small as the platform it streams on.



Survive‘s theme of mental health within its action-adventure storyline is as small as the platform it streams on.

This review of Survive (Quibi) is spoiler-free.

Director Mark Pellington made a name for himself with generic studio thriller fare around the turn of the century with Arlington Road and The Mothman Prophecies, but cut his teeth with documentaries on bands like U2, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam in the mid-nineties. Hell, anyone responsible for PJ’s Single Video Theory is a friend of mine, and I remembered being impressed that he transitioned into his debut feature with Road that had the guts to go with the unconventional, uncomfortable ending. So, I had high hopes for Quibi’s centerpiece web series, Survive, starring Sophie Turner, that premiered earlier this month. Sadly, free entertainment in quarantine or not, it relies too much on the star’s appeal and a script that cuts corners even in episodes 10 minutes or less.

The web series plot revolves around a suicidal woman named Jane (Turner) who, after a stay in a psychiatric study, is set to fly home to her family. She befriends a very kind young man named Paul (Straight Outta Compton‘s Corey Hawkins), who is remarkably understanding as he tries to calm Jane’s fear when he lets her pass him at the security checkpoint or when he finds her in the men’s room stall with tears running down her face.  Shortly after their encounter, and just amazing luck, they happen to be sitting right next to each other on the flight. The plane crashes, and they are the only survivors.


Survive was adapted for the screen phone by Richard Abate and Jeremy Ungar from the novel of the same name by Alex Morel. The script seems to want to rely on the protagonist being an unreliable narrator in the beginning but abandons that quickly. The real issue is the liberty the script (or maybe the novel) takes with the fine points. For instance, with Sophie’s Jane,major theme of mental health and suicide are highlighted by knowing the code of the pharmacy at the facility she’s in, asking the viewer to suspend belief that places like this (and as modern looking as this facility looks) do not have a single camera, secured areas, or anyone working to watch the residents at night. Even if adapted from the book, those plot holes in the fine points that move the series along needed to be addressed by the writers, as the responsibility is theirs after it leaves the original writer’s hands. The fact that Jane, and this is the basic plot, survives the crash while in the bathroom, with no safety precautions and while being bounced around like a lottery ball, is ridiculous.

A series like this needed a smart script, and can’t be saved with solid direction, likable stars, and the themes that are produced here. Yes, the thought of a person who is overcome by depression and now is in the predicament of doing anything she can to survive is an interesting one, but has been done before and better (for instance, Gravity). The less attention to salient or finer points leaves gaping plot holes in even the tiniest episodes that take away any tension and suspense. The lack of chemistry between Turner and Hawkins is apparent, becomes more obvious between each episode, and had me convinced Paul was only putting up with her and dragging her along because she might be a good source of food in the wilderness if needed.

Network and streaming platforms have perfected the serialized drama, like 24 or Lost, long before Quibi’s short-form mobile video platform. Survive lacks the deeper complexities that are missed, which come with mental health issues that could have offset its lack of any real thrills. Survive‘s look at mental health within its action-adventure storyline is as small as the platform it streams on.

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