Isolated is a feeling many of us became all too familiar with this past year…
…I usually work from home. Not a bad gig most of the time. But when the pandemic hit and we were forced into lockdown, I suddenly wasn’t able to get out of my apartment and hit up my favorite places. I was trapped there. Isolated. And losing my goddamn mind. Few films this past year have captured the madness of isolation better than writer/directors Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks’s Alone with You, which just played at Fantastic Fest.
The film stars Bennett as Charlie, a woman waiting on her girlfriend Simone (Emma Myles) to get home for a romantic night together. But when Simone isn’t answering her phone, Charlie begins to worry. Especially when she realizes she’s trapped in her apartment, windows covered by some kind of tent, and no one is coming to help her.
Contradictory to the rest of the film, Alone with You opens on a serene moment in which Charlie is at the beach with Simone. The sun is bright. The waves are crashing gently. And the two couldn’t be happier. It’s a poetic, beautiful sequence shot with passionate artistry. It’s also the last time the viewer will ever be comfortable, because it’s all a disturbing downturn from there.
Just before the scene ends, we get a glimpse of what’s to come, as the editing suddenly becomes more frantic, splicing in images of Charlie screaming, then flashing to another time in which she is watching Simone with some guy from across the street, drenched in a rain that seems to be only for her. Alone with You doesn’t hide what it is. This is disorienting arthouse horror that explores the deepest, darkest depths of loneliness.
This surreal journey then picks up with Charlie in her apartment, waiting for Simone. We start to get a good sense of how fucked up Charlie’s life is, as she Skype’s with her internet-incapable mother (the always amazing Barbara Crampton), a painfully religious woman who makes clear she doesn’t accept Charlie and her sexuality. Shout-out to Crampton by the way, who’s only briefly in the film but makes a lasting impression. All hail the power of Crampton.
The excellence that is Barbara aside, the scene is devastating. And that doesn’t even include the torment of Charlie’s constant phone calls with her friend Thea (Dora Madison), who says Charlie waits on Simone “like it’s your full time fucking job…you used to be fun”. Ouch! Bennett takes all of that pain and lays it bare on her sleeve for us to see. Alone with You is more or less a one woman show and Bennett carries the film confidently with an emotional powerhouse of a performance that is absolutely riveting. Not an easy task, but one that she’s more than capable of.
Charlie is that psychologically flawed character that, whether you relate to her or not, you can’t help but empathize with because hers is such a classically tragic story. That lonely person who always feels like they’re letting everyone down, the only one in the way herself. Hence the title. Whether we’re surrounded by friends or sitting at home by ourselves on the couch, we’re always alone in our own heads.
It’s around this time that Charlie discovers her door is stuck, windows covered, and that’s when things get…weird.
Watching Alone with You, I found myself going back to Mickey Keating’s Darling or even Stephen King’s 1408. All are pretty different from each other, but they share a DNA of psychological, isolationist horror, with both Darling and Alone with You coming off like a modern Polanski flick. The warm glow around Charlie and any sense of normalcy quickly transforms into an unapologetic mind-fuck.
The longer Alone with You goes, the creepier it gets, as Charlie is confronted by a strange voice from the apartment next door, a skin-prickling soundscape from sound designers Shawn Duffy and Nicole Pettigrew, shadowy figures, and other eerie horrors. This is your traditional slow-burn, but unlike others in that category, Alone with You is so unbearably tense you might catch yourself holding your breath or choking on your own scream, whichever comes first. Charlie is stuck between a door and a mad place, and the experience is a surreal nightmare that starts as a whisper and grows into the bone-rattling screech of a banshee. It takes a lot to get under my skin, and Alone with You buried itself under my flesh like a tick hungry for blood. For their debut feature, Bennett and Brooks have already proven themselves as masters of psychological horror.
Alone with You is terrifying. It’s confusing. And it’s most terrifying in how confusing it is. The audience is made to feel every ounce of Charlie’s fear to great effect, but for all of the terror running rampant through this fish in a bottle narrative, Alone with You is an oddly beautiful though terribly unsettling portrait of loneliness that (Pinhead voice) will tear your soul apart.
While each and every element works on its own in this fit for the pandemic era flick, Alone with You can get a bit repetitive at times as Charlie bounces around between different pieces of the story that just keep getting stranger. At a tight 83 minutes though, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. That’s all it needs to leave you feeling bruised, battered and haunted. For those who turn their nose up at the phrase “slow burn”, don’t worry. The terrifying final act is well worth the wait and I promise you’ll leave unable to shake it from your mind.
By Matt Konopka