Survival tales typically pit the unprepared against unenviable odds as they get lost in nature, targeted by hooligans, or added to the menu for hungry beasts, but there’s a smaller niche of titles that extend the challenge to far more experienced protagonists. Films like Rituals (1977) and Southern Comfort (1981) drop otherwise capable characters into nightmare scenarios where they’re forced to utilize their various skills to survive, and when done well, the results can be every bit as thrilling, nerve-wracking, and cheer-worthy for viewers as watching someone find those inner strengths on the fly. The Decline is the newest Netflix Original Film out of Canada to do just that, and it is done extremely well.
Antoine (Guillaume Laurin) wakes his sleeping daughter in the middle of the night and tells her “it’s time.” She gets dressed quickly, grabs her go bag, and along with her mother they move quietly to the car and drive away into the night, but it’s quickly revealed to be just a dry run for a family preparing for the eventual collapse of society whether through war, an epidemic, or social uprising. Antoine is thrilled when he lands a coveted slot in a survival training course run by a master doomsday prepper named Alain (Réal Bossé), and after meeting the others — David (Marc Beaupré) is Alain’s right-hand man and ready to kill, Rachel (Marie-Evelyne Lessard) is ex-military, Sebastien (Guillaume Cyr) is an avid hunter, and both Anna (Marilyn Castonguay) and Francois (Marc-André Grondin) are new to the prepper lifestyle but enthusiastic about the necessity of it — they all settle in to learn the ultimate lesson.
“In order to live, we have to survive.”
As expected, things take a turn forcing Antoine and others into a fight for their lives, and the result is a thrilling back half delivering action, suspense, and some genuine surprises. Director/co-writer Patrice Laliberté, along with co-writers Charles Dionne and Nicolas Krief, craft a tight and effective thriller that doesn’t waste a frame telling its story. At just 83 minutes, The Decline does a fantastic job establishing its characters, their motivations, and the house of cards they’ve built around themselves before the inevitable brings it all crashing down with violence, division, and death.
One of the script’s many strengths is how it eschews the expected of offering viewers a “normal” position — everyone here is a firm believer that civilization will collapse during their lifetime, and the only way to prepare for it is to become proficient with weapons and self-sufficient everywhere else. There’s a risk that viewers will have no character to latch on to, but these people come in gradations of paranoia. Some are racist and expect trouble in the form of immigrant mobs, while others seem confident that a global pandemic will bring society to its knees (imagine that!), while at least one simply wants to better themselves so as not to repeat mistakes from their past.
Rather than come across simply as 2nd Amendment-fuckers, most are instead given a bit more to chew on, and that starts with Alain. He’s in some ways the main villain of the film, but unlike David who’s simply a gung-ho prick, Alain is more well-rounded and sincere. It makes for some interesting dynamics as he sees his world crumbling in probably the singular way he didn’t foresee — from within. The film would actually make for an interesting double feature with 2018’s The Standoff at Sparrow Creek as both see the same segment of society challenged in the limits of their own beliefs. “They took guns. We have guns. There won’t be any talking,” says David after being told by Alain that the brewing conflict could still be resolved peacefully. It’s a telling divide between the two as the crossover from self defense to murder comes far easier than even they probably expected.
The Decline hits some expected beats along the way, but it also manages a couple surprises including one that made my jaw drop. While the film’s first half sets up characters and dynamics, the back half delivers a exciting and suspenseful action thriller where guns are proven deadly in every hand and the bullet’s impact feels final. It’s an action movie that manages both entertainment and thought-provoking commentary, and together they make for one hell of a ride.