A freshman work from a mutifaceted filmmaker with close to eighteen years in his belt as a stunt performer, Tribal: Get Out Alive culminates a milestone effort from Matt Routledge in his feature directing debut. He reunites with actress Zara Phythian and actor Ross O’Hennessy, each having shared the set a few times in the last two decades with each other, thus contributing to a micro-budgeted action horror production that stands on solid ground thanks to like-minds, and with a filmmaker who has clearly done his homework.
Routledge directs from a script by Johnny Walker, with a story that centers on elite security service agents Caitlin (Phythian) and Brad (O’Hennessy), as they’re assigned to clear out the farmhouse on the rural property recently acquired by the late owner’s heir, Richard Kenning (Thomas Dodd). Joined by other agents as well as two police constables and the arrival of Kenning, whose creepy persona sticks out like a sore thumb, Caitlin and Brad begin exhuming and inspecting the farmhouse well into the late evening, when suddenly, nearing the end of the assignment, members of their team start to disappear.
Soon, a trap springs that exposes the team to a dark, undergound maze filled with death and devastation. Upon rescuing Maya (Valerie Thomas), a beautiful woman who appears to have survived the violence, the team uncovers a cruel, long-hidden truth about Kenning’s father and his inhumane practices within the hidden tunnels and lairs. It’s not long before a dark horse emerges in the team’s midst as their numbers thin, putting Caitlin and Brad face-to-face with a powerful force of evil with no choice but to resort to old methods and, in titular and fitting fashion, ‘Get Out Alive’!
After two decades in the field with stunt credits such as Chee Keong Cheung’s Underground, Jesse Johnson’s Avengement and Ross Boyask’s I Am Vengeance: Retaliation to name a few, Routledge’s emergence in the director’s chair comes at a fortuitous time in action cinema when scrutiny in the craft has only grown in numbers among critics, and especially professionals in the stunt industry around the world. From fight choreography to narrative story and script delivery, on a micro-budget no less, Tribal: Get Out Alive stands as a fair and firm assessment of an independent film production that, while imperfect, is smartly crafted with many of the right ingredients on hand.
The praise is especially deserved for handing audiences a brutal and formidable thriller with Phythian and O’Hennessy, proving to be mutual heavy hitters in both scope and physicality. Both characters are ex-military and as such, quarterback each other through thick and thin, a fact amply underscored in their camraderie when Caitlin experiences episodes of PTSD. She’s not a broken person, but she definitely has her own scars, and when pushed in a corner, she doesn’t just put up a fight: she punishes.
It’s especially an attribute to Phythian’s longstanding potential as an actress and martial artist who’s been a presence in the genre for nearly fifteen years, whose own screen prospects include – but not limited to – Marvel’s Doctor Strange, James Bushe’s Cannibals & Carpet Fitters, a small role in Boyask’s amazing indie fantasy thriller, Warrioress. Phythian also led the way in Guy Bleyaert’s zombie survival thriller Transit 17, which took on an extenuating production period before finally releasing last year, and adds to a roster of films that have been otherwise hit-or-miss.
With Tribal: Get Out Alive, it’s a relief to see Phythian in her element, delivering a formidable showcase of her screenfighting talents with exhilirating results, easily equaling the likes of prominent fan favorites like Scott Adkins and Jailbreak star Jean-Paul Ly, and a maiden treat for anyone’s first exposure to the Nottingham native. Moreover, Phythian also has a hand in fight choreography next to Routledge among several others contributing to the action, with Nick “Blade” Khan serving as fight coordinator, comprising a real team effort for the fanservice here. Constructing palpable, fast and brutal fight scenery with copious amounts of blood in select sequences befitting the film, and solid foley work for the fight action, it absolutely works.
With aforementioned actress Thomas as Maya and Dodd as the menacing Kenning in the mix, the film sticks to the sort of familiar formula that these sorts of ensemble survival thrillers adhere to. If you’ve seen Aliens or Predator, or any of the Friday the 13th movies, you get the gist of it. What counts, however, is Routledge’s long-term experience on the set, from performing stunts and acting, to directing television and short-form projects, and his apt adherence to all the necessary elements that make a film work. Most thrillers of this kind work one way or another, from lighting, to set pieces, cast performances, action, editing and scoring, while others typically tend to flounder and fail depending on the treatment, and unfortunately because some filmmakers forget about the movie they’re making, in favor of a self-serving vanity project that does nothing for the fans.
Tribal: Get Out Alive takes a route far from this end, taking its tiny budget and using it to the film’s betterment with a strong cast, a treatment that bodes with strong production value, and a story ripe with surprises and twists that take you right into some of the best the genre has to offer in a production of this kind. More to the point, it’s a female-fronted endeavor with an exciting star in Phythian who deservedly earns her recognition from the martial arts action fandom.
Tribal: Get Out Alive with have a virtual UK premiere at 7:30pm on August 10, before screening for this year’s Digital edition of the Iron Dragon TV Action Fest, launching August 15. The film is currently available in the United States on Blu-Ray and VoD from SP Releasing, and will release wide in the U.K. on August 17 from Evolutionary Films.