Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar part of town?...
...Have you cut off another driver and then noticed them following far too closely? As you increase your speed in an effort to lose them, you find they only keep pace with you. Have you made unnecessary lane changes and turns only to find them staying right behind you? Have you ever seen the movie Duel? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you can probably relate to the protagonist of Alone, making its International Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival.
Set in modern-day Oregon, Alone tells the story of Jessica (Bloodline's Jules Willcox), a woman dealing with her husband’s death by packing up her belongings and driving across the state. She and the driver of a black SUV pass each other on the highway, and Jessica soon realizes that the SUV's driver is menacing her. Just as the tension becomes too much, the driver pulls off. Jessica assumes her ordeal is over. Oh, Jessica, haven't you seen one of these movies before? Soon, the driver of the SUV abducts Jessica. Before the film's 100-minute run time is up, she must escape her captor, survive the harsh Oregon wilderness, and evade the man who means to kill her. The story is familiar, and its execution is competent if not inspired.
Directed by John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning [the best film in that series that features a baseball bat fight]) and written by Mattias Olsson, Alone is an acceptable entry into the abduction horror subgenre. The pacing works and you will find yourself drawn into the film by its lush cinematography and by Jules Willcox's believably subdued performance. The film's more exciting elements are well shot but will seem familiar to anybody who has seen Duel or The Car and the first act is very similar to the opening of 10 Cloverfield Lane… minus the ominous radio reports. Mostly, the film’s biggest issue is what it lacks. There's not much energy or thrills, and Hyams’ predominantly television background influence is apparent. Alone feels more like a middle of the road episode of a TV drama than an edge of your seat thriller.
The film's nameless villain is played by Marc Menchaca (HBO's The Outsider), with a cold and calm menace that keeps viewers on edge. Menchaca's performance is believable and alarming. Watching him, viewers will have the deeply unsettling feeling that this type of person absolutely exists. You may have driven behind them multiple times in your daily commute. The unnamed abductor moves with calm calculation that tells the audience he has done this many times before and means to do it many, many more.
Willcox and Menchaca may have the prowess in the acting department, but the true star of Alone is the Oregon backcountry. Shown in lush greens and deep browns, the forest is as beautiful and endless as death itself. Watching Jessica run, swim, and hide deeper and deeper in the woods, we realize that she’s only trading captors, exchanging the hot terror of man for the cold peril of the natural world. While Jessica sprints from one horror to the next with her captor in dogged pursuit, the forest merely waits. It is endless and needs only time to kill her.
About halfway through the film, we are introduced to a lone and suspicious deer hunter played by Anthony Heald (The Silence of the Lambs). Seeing the former Dr. Chilton reminded me of that much more successful abduction film from the early 90s, and of how much has changed since its release. The fascinatingly cruel killer has fallen out of favor in modern films, losing out to seemingly more mundane versions.
Perhaps we have seen enough documentaries and court proceedings to know that real killers and rapists tend not to have elaborate dungeons or creepy hobbies like breeding rare moths and are rarely motivated by wanting to build a flesh suit. Rather, they are more often average people with an unusual ability to present a normal, public face that conceals their internal violence. As I write this review, The Golden State Killer has plead guilty to multiple murders and rapes across California and has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. When Joseph DeAngelo was discovered to be The Golden State Killer some years ago, he was not revealed to be Buffalo Bill, Leatherface, or The Joker. He was exactly what we expected him to be—an average suburban white man who nobody was looking at.
While the story of Alone is familiar, it is an entertaining one. Jessica is a formidable survivor who uses her strength of will and some cleverness to escape her pursuer. The unnamed killer is cold and exacting. Viewers will be happy to see how Jessica develops throughout the course of her terrible journey.
Alone does make one serious misstep near the final 20 minutes: undercuts and invalidates its clever twist by the film’s end for no apparent reason. It's a damn shame because this turn adds an interesting element to the final act and raises the stakes in an unexpected way.
Alone is worth seeking out for fans of the abduction subgenre. It is a serviceable film that does not seek to revolutionize the genre nor attempt to do more than it is capable of. It could have been helped by showing more clever actions by its hero and villain but perhaps the intention was only to make a good film, not a great one.
Alone is playing at The Fantasia Film Festival and will be released in theaters and on VOD on September 18th from Magnet Releasing.
By Mark Gonzales