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‘Alone’

Tyler Posey and Donald Sutherland find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Last week, I reviewed the movie Alone, a cat-and-mouse/abduction film. This week, we turn to Alone, a zombie apocalypse movie. This is not the Indian horror film Alone, which follows the angry spirit of a murdered conjoined twin. And it’s highly unlikely that it would be confused with the reality series Alone, that has been running since 2015.

So … this Alone (the zombie one) … is similar to the Korean film #Alive. This would make sense as #Alive’s screenplay was co-written by Matt Naylor, who provided the screenplay for Alone. Both seem to have been cribbed from the 2018 French film The Night Eats the World.

Which brings us back to Alone—the zombie apocalypse one. Director Johnny Martin and writer Matt Naylor have attempted to do something different, with mixed results. They get an A for effort and a B+ for creativity. The visual effects are okay if not spectacular; let’s say a B. Character development is weak even in its best moments — maybe a D+.

The film begins on day 42 of the apocalypse. Aidan (Tyler Posey, who appears in just about every frame of the film) has been video logging during this time, as he announces this to the camera. The next moment, he is seen trying hang himself. Then it flashes back to 42 days earlier, Aidan, sans beard, in bed with … someone. She sneaks out and is never heard from again. Clearly, she is not going to be a major player.

Donald Sutherland in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

He turns on the television to be greeted by the chilling Emergency Broadcast System.  Then all hell breaks loose. There are sounds of yelling and breaking glass; a helicopter crashes; people are running in the streets. A little girl is set upon by shrieking zombies.  His neighbor, Brandon (Robert Ri’chard), who he has never met, stumbles into his apartment; he was just attacked by his roommate. Thus, the set-up.

It is strange that it all happens at once — that there was no warning, no build-up. Especially as the talking heads on the television share that the virus is transmitted through the blood — scratches and bites.  You’d think there would have been some kind of change that led to total destruction … and not insta-zombies. But, these are the cards that we’re dealt.

Aidan realizes Brandon is infected and forces Brandon out as he transforms. He watches the destruction in his hall through the peephole and then just listens to the cries for help and the murderous attacks.

The next stretch involves the disintegration of the world as reflected in the one apartment building. Phone circuits go from busy to dead. Sirens. More yelling and screaming. The infected wander the halls, banging on doors. Aidan counts the days by marking his mirror with a pen. The last advice he gets from his parents before they are murdered (he hears this on a message) is to “Stay Alive.” He puts this on a post-it.

More information is eked out about the virus. The infected only eat living flesh that is uninfected. But, and most interestingly, the zombies are aware of their state. They alternate between attacking and begging for death. It is a struggle between the disease’s power and the victim’s residual humanity. At any given point, they could be demanding “Come here” or warning “Stay way” or begging “Kill me.” This is unique in zombie myth and lore and separates it from the shuffling, brain-eating corpses that have been more prevalent in past outings. There is also something about mob mentality that enters into it but it’s not really clarified.

The power goes out and food is low. Aidan kills a zombie and stuffs it in his bathroom crawlspace, wedging it shut with a surfboard. (Later, the same surfboard will be seen in two other places before he returns to the bathroom where it somehow had remained.)

Eventually, the timeline catches up to where we started. Just as he is about to kill himself, he spots a woman (Summer Spiro) — clearly alive and healthy — in the building across from his. What follows is probably the sole meet-cute in any zombie movie. And, as a bonus, she is surprisingly well-groomed given the whole end-of-the-world thing going on. (Well, maybe a few split-ends but what can you expect?) They begin to communicate with hand-written signs. She is Eva. Aidan and Eva. He holds up: “U R the 1st person I’ve seen.” The Aidan-Eva/Adam-Eve thing is not exactly subtle.

What ensues is their desire to connect and to be together, and it leads him to explore various ways of getting to her. It is during this foray that he meets Edward (the always intriguing Donald Sutherland). Is he good, bad, or just peculiar? The theme of “You take care of the people you love” comes out in an unusual way. Again, the creators’ approach is different and enriches both the encounter and the narrative.

There is mid-range gore which is not excessive but certainly present. (With this amount of ongoing and unchecked carnage and scattered corpses, there would probably be a lot more rot.) There are relatively few jump-out scares, which speaks well to the filmmakers’ restraint, and a handful of well-staged and tense mini-battles.

Where Alone stumbles the most is on actually understanding who these people are. Aidan offers a few pieces of himself that seem to be counter-indicated by everything around him. Eva is barely given a chance to show any range or depth. Both Posey and Spiro do the best they can, but we only invest in them as they are pretty much the last people on earth.

Alone is not the allegory of the low-budget but ground-breaking Night of the Living Dead. It doesn’t strive for the simultaneously introspective and epic nature of the adaptions of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (adapted three times). And it lacks the style and kinetic energy of 28 Days Later. But it does try to do something different. For effort and novelty, let’s give it a B- which is not the worst entry in the genre.

Rated R, Alone is streaming on demand.

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Jules Willcox in a scene from the film. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing

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. 

Marc Menchaca plays a creepy serial killer in ‘Alone.’ Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing

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.