John Hyams’ Alone feels like a mix tape of classic thriller and horror tropes, but without the combined effectiveness. Jules Willcox plays Jessica, a woman mourning the death of her husband and in the middle of a big move. Jessica comes across a dangerous driver on the road, who later attempts to introduce himself to Jessica, but we know, as does Jessica, that there is something wrong about this man (Marc Menchaca) who sports a thick, creepy moustache paired with old glasses and too much enthusiasm. As Alone effectively points out, it’s dangerous being a woman in the world.
Hyams does much right, mainly by having his protagonist do all the right things. Jessica is smart and knows the world is a terrible place, especially for a lone woman like herself, so she lowers her car window minimally when speaking to strangers and doesn’t get out of her car when the man’s car breaks down ahead of her. Still, he catches up to Jessica, takes her against her will and locks her up in a basement. He taunts her by playing videos of her dead husband, while also physically abusing her.
Then Jessica escapes, but there is still a lot of the film’s relatively breezy 98-minute runtime left. By this point, the viewer is confused; what is this film actually about? Ultimately, Alone wants to focus on Jessica’s fight for survival against all odds whilst in the midst of her grief. The narrative is divided into five sections: The Road, The River, The Rain, The Night and The Clearing, almost as if to divide the film into the five distinct stages of grief. Alone always keeps in mind that Jessica is not only in physical danger but was already in pain and on the run long before the man, called Sam, got involved.
Unfortunately, we learn most of Jessica’s past through awkward and clumsy exposition. As Jessica truly is alone, screenwriter Mattias Olsson (who wrote and directed the 2011 Swedish original, Gone) has to find ways to fill the viewer in and this is done through a couple of phone calls that do not resemble any type of real-world conversations held by a human being, ever. Yet despite this, Hyman is still able to effectively build tension levels as the story develops.
Once the action moves from the road and basement into the wild, things improve. The narrative suddenly has a lot less baggage attached - we don’t need exposition when we can have well-paced action. It’s here that Alone is at its very best, at times becoming incredibly tense and even terrifying. Hyams smartly utilises multiple angles and shoots Jessica’s escape with a sense of calmness and clarity. It’s still unbelievably fast and messy, but Alone is also refreshingly clear in its cinematography and editing, never convoluting its action.
Jules Willcox turns in a fine performance as Jessica, especially towards the end of the film. In the early stages, everything feels stiff and amateurish and the script’s weaknesses creep into the performances. Jessica seems a little too calm and collected, if nervous, in the beginning, but Willcox becomes fierce and engaging in her portrayal of a woman desperate to live, once allowed to do so.
Menchaca carries much of the film’s terror on his shoulders, or in fact, on his ‘stache. Sam is convincingly sinister, but there's a nagging feeling more could have squeezed out of the character and his life outside of kidnapping women. Hyams’ direction lacks edge - it’s not gory or consistently gripping enough to dazzle the viewer with its spectacle of violence and its structure borrows too heavily from similar films. The first part of the story is lifted from a rape-revenge narrative - minus the sexual violence - and the latter half feels like a survival story we’ve seen many times before. Occasionally, Hyams injects surprising shots of brutality to liven things up, but Alone still feels like a watered-down, middling version of much better versions of the same film.
Alone is available digitally from September 18 in the US.
Dir: John Hyams, Vladislav Khesin | Cast: Albina Katsman, Anthony Heald, Bailey Coppola, Elizabeth Arends, Jonathan Rosenthal, Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Sara Anne | Writers: Gabriel Legua (Screenplay by), Mattias Olsson, Olabode Olakanmi, Samuel Bandeira