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Peter W Sheehan  |  29 October 2020

ALONE. Starring: Jules Willcox, and Marc Menchaca. Also, Anthony Heald. Directed by John Hyams. Rated MA 15+. Restricted. (Strong violence and coarse language). 98 min.

There are 16 films of the same name (Alone) from 1931 to 2020, and two horror films with the same title were released in 2020. This film is one of them – a US thriller, adapted from a screenplay written by Mattias Olsson about a grief-stricken woman who is captured by a homicidal stranger. She escapes and flees into the American wilderness where he pursues her relentlessly. The film is a remake of the Swedish film, Gone (2011), which was co-directed and written by Mattias Olsson, who wrote this movie.

Jessica (Jules Wilcox), newly-widowed and emotionally fragile after the suicide of her husband, drives to find solitude in the remote Pacific Northwest regions of the US, North of Portland, Oregon. She is trying to recover from the loss of her husband, when a psychopathic, serial killer, identified only as 'Man' in the film (Marc Menchaca), sees her car travelling on the isolated roads. After she impulsively tries to pass him across a double line, he starts to stalk her. In successive incidents that make Jessica anxious, Jessica begins to feel real fear. After almost forcing her car off the road, Man pulls up to apologise at a rest stop and interacts with Jessica in a seemingly friendly way. Later, on a lonely stretch of winding road, Man flags Jessica down, but Jessica drives on. When her own car breaks down, Man arrives – he assaults Jessica in order to drug her, abducts her, and she wakes up imprisoned in the basement of his remote cabin. There, he taunts her in a disturbingly intimate, and psychological way.

Using resilience and resourcefulness, Jessica escapes while Man is on the phone to his wife and daughter, who are oblivious to his psychopathic behaviour. Her escape, however, puts her not just in conflict with a serial killer, but pits her against the dangers of a wild and, at times, unforgiving environment. The film focuses firmly on the thriller elements of its plot-line, but they are accompanied by scenes of environmental beauty, captured by quality cinematography, that is enhanced by impressive aerial camera work.

The director, John Hyams, chooses to accentuate the tension rather than the dynamics responsible for the behaviour of its two main leads. Jessica had worries we are not entirely sure about back home, the exact nature of her emotional vulnerability and the background to her grief are kept sketchy, and why Man leads such an antisocial, secretive life away from an unknowing, loving family stays hidden. All aren’t as important as what sustains Hyams in his well controlled grip on the film’s escalating tension.

The movie deliberately anchors itself with lean scripting to focus on horror thrills. Twice, it focuses on disturbing engagement where the viewer is being implicitly invited by Man to share an assailant’s thrill in what is happening, or about to take place. The result is a scary, suspenseful film that carries very few character revelations, but it seriously taunts. It is a chilling movie that puts psychological brutality at the core of a movie that asks, unpleasantly at times, for fantasy identification with the aggressor.

Reflecting the content of many films in the horror genre, this film is about a vulnerable female who is terrorised by a mentally ill male. En route, the film plays subtle homage to the brilliance of Stephen Spielberg’s classic directorial-debut movie, Duel (1971), where road pursuit moves into malevolent harassment, when a killer truck menacingly stalks a driver. In this film, the wilderness reinforces the tension. The sounds and sights of nature are delivered threateningly, as Jessica fights for survival against the odds, in forest wilderness that contains surging rivers in flood.

The movie is almost entirely action-dominated, and it compellingly transmits serious unease that is genuinely disquieting. Relatively free of blood and gore, it moves to an emotional climax that is  explicit. Structured around five discrete chapter-like headings, the film delivers its thrills in a very distinctive way, but it should be noted that it also, at times, asks viewers to share the sadism.

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media
Rialto Distribution
Available on Foxtel & Fetch and screening in cinemas in NSW and QLD, from 29 October 2020



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