THE STORY – A recently widowed traveler is kidnapped by a cold blooded killer, only to escape into the wilderness where she is forced to battle against the elements as her pursuer closes in on her.
THE CAST – Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca & Anthony Heald
THE TEAM – John Hyams (Director) & Mattias Olsson (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 98 Minutes
By Sara Clements
A familiar story in film and TV (and even the news) is that of predators and prey. Namely, a kidnapper and his victim. In film, this is seen frequently in the horror genre, like “10 Cloverfield Lane” where a woman gets kidnapped in the middle of an alien invasion. It can also transcend genres as seen with “Room” where a girl is held captive for years and must care for the son she bore from her kidnapper. The common pattern here is the gender of the victim. This is a reality women risk when they walk outside their home every day. There is always a barrier to how free we can be. These narratives are tough to stomach with many moments of discomfort, but they can also be thrilling. Director John Hyams and writer Mattias Olsson lend their vision to this popular narrative with “Alone,” creating a survivalist thriller that, while playing with familiar tropes, manages to feel somewhat fresh.
Divided into parts, “Alone” follows recently widowed Jessica (Jules Willcox), who’s packing her life away in a U-Haul. The audience follows her as she drives off on the next phase of her life – the camera always either tight alongside her where we feel we’re riding in the back seat or tailing behind and above. This establishes quickly how cinematographer Federico Verardi will utilize the camera throughout the remainder of the film. It remains constantly near Jessica so we feel we’re also living through the frightening situation she’s about to find herself in.
The film is incredibly tense from the get-go as Jessica encounters a sporadic driver on the road (reminding an audience member with anxiety why they don’t drive). The driver is moving slowly so she tries to pass, but they speed up suddenly when she gets alongside them, and her life flashes before her eyes as she almost collides with a semi truck. Unfortunately, that won’t be the only near-death experience she has on this trip. Later that night, she spots the same vehicle; sinister-looking in the distance as just an image of headlights with the driver shrouded in darkness. Then she finally meets the driver: a creepy guy with a handlebar mustache (Marc Menchaca). She keeps running into him to the point where’s it’s no longer simply a coincidence. All these encounters with the same man makes Jessica weary of all the men around her, emphasized by the camera’s focus on them. And then, when she finds herself stranded on a back road in the dead of night with a slashed tire, she sees those same headlights approaching – the nightmare begins. She’s kidnapped, and the story becomes one of survival as she makes desperate attempts to escape her kidnapper’s grasp, while also braving the elements of the forest that surrounds her. There are moments of false security where we think she’s finally safe, but then the action and suspense start right up again – all leading to an exhilarating showdown in the third act.
The central performances here are excellent and both play up the horror of the film’s premise. It’s a surprise that Willcox isn’t a huge star of the genre because she’s just so good and has the range to pull off such a demanding role. And, Menchaca, well, he plays creepy so well I would not want to run into him on the street. His character, whose identity is never known, is sadistic and some revelations about him make the situation even more disturbing. The actor is brilliant as he also acts out a twisted monologue. The technical elements at play are also equally excellent, especially, as mentioned, Verardi’s use of the camera. Along with the camera’s placement making the audience feel we’re on this frightening ride with Jessica, the cinematography in the latter sections of the film emphasizes both the scale of the forest that surrounds her and the severity of her situation. Nima Fakhrara’s score also surprises, with the sound of heavy breathing mixed into it which blends brilliantly with the chase scenes, and the score is also used to mark when the film’s predator is near or when his prey is at risk of being spotted, like a sound or music cue in a video game.
“Alone” presents a familiar premise and contains tropes that are common with the genre. You could say, “Of course there’s bad cell reception,” or, “Of course the white girl trips.” But the film is a pleasant surprise, with great performances and creative use of cinematography and sound that makes it feel a little different. “Alone” had its international premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A gripping survivalist thriller with great performances, cinematography, and sound.
THE OSCARS – None