From the moment Alive starts, the green light hits and we floor it full speed ahead...
...In a set up similar to Saw, we find ourselves in a room with no idea how our two main characters got there, why they are there, or who is doing this to them.
That’s as far as the similarities between these two films go, however. Rob Grant directs a claustrophobic tale that offers us no chance to relax and catch our breath, even when the scenes that play out are otherwise calm or chill. Also unlike Saw, we know the identity of our evil mastermind in this cat-and-mouse game of survival by the end of the intro scene: an unnamed doctor, known only as “The Man”, played by the wonderfully manic Angus Macfadyen (Saw III).
Perhaps the more well-developed of the characters, Macfadyen plays his role with a balance of caring, quirky, and downright menacing. He uses his charm to make you sort of want to learn more about him and the world that he has created, no matter how evil it is.
Rounding out the core cast are our protagonists, Thomas Cocquerel, known only as “Male Patient” and later self-named Joe, and Camille Stopps as the “Female Patient” later self-named Elizabeth. I say self-named because when these characters wake up, they do not know their names or anything about who they are; the only hints of their past are given in hazy first-person flashbacks. As we watch these two go through pain and some uniquely uncomfortable moments (looking at you sponge bath scene), we see them begin to bond and rely on each other in order to survive, often playing into the demented games of their caretaker.
While Cocquerel plays the sort of tough guy aspect of the pair, delivering defiance and creating much of the conflict between him and Macfadyen, Stopps plays the softer, more emotional personality who tries to subdue and comply to survive. All three actors have great chemistry and I found myself rooting for “Joe” and “Elizabeth” throughout the movie, and in typical horror movie fashion I even found myself shouting at the screen throughout the film.
The pair are more than just our POV for the action, however. They’re also the heart of the film, and that is perhaps what makes the ending all the more heartbreaking. It left me speechless even after the credits rolled, my head spinning with questions and unresolved answers thanks to its implications.
Chuck McCue and Jules Vincent’s script features a twist ending that felt like something out of the Twilight Zone. Besides acting, writing, and directing, one of the greatest things that stands out about Alive is the setting: an eerie abandoned hospital and wide-open forests that seem never-ending. Such immense beauty is no surprise given that it is shot in Calgary, often used in other, equally beautiful and unsettling films and tv shows such as Fargo, Wynonna Earp, and The Revenant. We may not spend much time outside, but the location still manages to leave an impression.
Another stand-out element of the film is the anxiety-inducing score by Michelle Osis. I found my heart started racing more and more every time I heard the deep strings and sudden chords as the characters traversed the dark hospital rooms. Even when it feels like we’re safe, there's the score hiding underneath, slowly building to a crescendo.
In the end, it does not feel as though any of Alive’s 91-minute runtime is wasted. Nothing feels drawn out or like the story is holding our hand. Sometimes I wish we had gotten more backstory about the doctor, but his motives nonetheless are made clear from the ending and the clues we see littered throughout the film, which manage to paint him in a sympathetic light.
If you are a fan of the first Saw film then I highly suggest watching Alive. While both stories are completely different, there are elements that connect the films with an underlying theme that is a foundation of the human condition: survival.
Alive comes to theaters and VOD from Cranked Up Films on September 18th.
By Kalani Landgraf