Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel
Alone could only be a labeled a “new” thriller in that it was just released. Nothing else could be considered new in this predictable and ultimately unsatisfying game of hunter and hunted. John Hyams has directed Mattias Olsson’s by-the-numbers screenplay with standard tropes and cliches.
From the beginning, everything is made to seem ominous. Even the packing of a U-Haul — dresser, chair, bicycle — is made to seem dark. When the protagonist, Jessica Swanson, is unable to take her potted plant, we know we are in dangerous territory. Her first word is “Sorry” — a response to honking horns as she sits at a changed light. “Sorry” doesn’t begin to describe what is ahead for her.
After five minutes of driving, the screen goes black and a spindly “The Road” appears. This is the first of multiple titles that have been added for apparently no reason other than to give a certain pretension to an otherwise standard horror film.
On “The Road,” she is nearly driven off by a car that slows down, then speeds up, causing a near miss with an oncoming truck. Shortly after, a call to her father reveals that she left her apartment for “a reason.” In the motel, she scrolls through photos on her tablet, showing her with her late husband. Later, in a phone call with her mother, the “reason” is revealed to be six months in the past.
The next morning, the man who tried to run her off the road, introduces himself and apologizes. Everything is done to make him look both benign and frightening. Sandy hair, huge moustache, aviator frames. Chatty and pleasant with his arm in a sling, he’s just asking too many questions.
Either one of two directions are inevitable. It will be a game of cat-and-mouse on the highway or she will be abducted. A flat tire is the catalyst for the latter course. He attacks and drugs her.
When she wakes up, she is locked in an empty basement with morning light streaming through the single, barred window. When he finally enters the room, she begs for her life. She promises if he lets her go; she won’t say anything. His response is an off-hand “Do you think you’re the first one to say that?,” one of the few genuinely chilling moments.
It is in captivity that we find out her late husband’s fate. The imprisonment doesn’t last long. She escapes and the rest of the movie is spent with the man in pursuit of Jessica.
What is revealed, in a cleverly pedestrian call from home, is that he is not a backwoods recluse but a husband and father with a deadly and perverse secret life. However, his attempts at psychological torture are clumsy and almost laughable. Just past the halfway mark, he is given a great big mess of a monologue that borders on parody. Better he should have stayed the strong silent type. Well, weird silent type anyway.
What works is Jessica doesn’t make the classic scream queen decisions. She does everything she can to keep herself safe, including calling 911. She is as resourceful as she can be, brave, and pretty smart.
Jules Willcox is strong as Jessica. Both in action and in stillness, she seems completely connected to her surroundings. She brings both grounding and believability to her performance.
Marc Menchaca is less successful as the man. At first, the “aww, shucks” quality works but his shift into villain is mechanical and uninspired. For a man leading a dual life, one would expect him to be have a intriguing persona.
The film is basically a two-hander. Anthony Heald, a fine actor in all he does, makes the most of a minor role as a friendly hunter. While it’s just a bit longer than a cameo, it does lend a bit of texture to the extended chase.
So much is played in the dark that it’s shadow and shift and voices. In addition, every sound is amplified, including the placing of a gasoline hose into the tank, the rattle of the car, the creaking of the trees in the wind. The soundtrack provides every emphasis and sting that could possibly be squeezed in.
The movie is not without tension and, overall, it is decently shot. The problem is that it seems interminable. Since there is little character development, it is hard to invest and, in the long run, feels laborious. There is a great deal of filler with wandering through forest and hills, all darkly verdant and overgrown.
The final confrontation has an interesting twist with a cell phone — but it’s all just too late in coming. Alone is probably better left … alone.
Rated R, Alone is streaming on demand.