There’s no shortage of horror thrillers that focus on the terror of obduction. It’s pretty much a cliché at this point to see a female protagonist kidnapped by a male villain, or at least cornered by one, and have to find their way to safety. So, when I first heard about a small independent movie called “Alone” that was released at the end of September I was skeptical. The plot revolves around, you guessed it, a woman kidnapped by a man who has to find her way out of the situation without dying. Even with an overly familiar premise though, “Alone” earned respectable reviews from critics and has been touted as a delightfully effective horror thriller. So I finally gave it a chance myself and what I discovered was a formulaic but genuinely intense picture that was a fun viewing experience, but a jumble of ideas that could have made for several better movies on their own.
Starring Jules Willcox as Jessica, a widow in the process of relocating, “Alone” sees Jessica kidnapped by the mysterious “Man”, played by Marc Menchaca. After escaping her captivity, Jessica finds herself trapped in the wilderness having to outrun, outsmart and outlast her pursuer in order to survive. That’s pretty wholly the premise of this movie. In almost an hour and forty minutes we see Jessica’s first encounters with the unnamed antagonist, her eventual obduction, her escape, and her final showdown with the enemy all split into a four part narrative, complete with title cards, and somehow each segment feels like its own experience.
“Alone” starts off strong with its first two chapters focusing on Jessica’s run in with the Man on the road, at a hotel and eventually the obduction itself. The whole movie could have been about this and probably been an excellent examination of stalker mentality and the fear of being followed. I actually enjoyed Jessica struggling with her interactions with the Man, especially seeing as she is grieving over the death of her husband so the trauma is still fresh making the added stressor of confrontation with a stranger even more effective and unsettling. It helps that Jules Wilcox sells her performance very well throughout the film, even when the feature goes beyond the stalker narrative. For pretty much the first half hour or so I was invested in trying to understand the dynamic between Jessica and the Man. Where was it leading? Was he chasing her or were their runs ins pure coincidence? Was he really a good neighbor and she was just paranoid or was there some evil motive behind his appearances? It looked like the film wasn’t going to answer these questions so easily…but alas….it does.
The second half of the movie was much less interesting than the first as after the obduction we end up in a traditional escape scenario that felt extremely reminiscent of “10 Cloverfield Lane” except for the fact that much of the action takes place outside of captivity as Jessica bucks the standard for female victims and actually manages to escape pretty quickly. The rest of the movie shows her attempts to evade the Man and while there is a lot of brutality involved in the second and third acts, this is where the film gets too comfortable with cliches. Jessica devolves from an emotionally damaged woman to the typical strong-willed female lead capable of fighting back against her male oppressor. This would be much cooler if it wasn’t something, we’d seen a million times before almost exactly like it is presented in this movie. Eventually the unneeded extra character is introduced to be the unwitting pawn to the villain or savior to the heroine while the villain, who is simply called The Man, spouts cliché monologues and monotone dialogue that wouldn’t even sound threatening on paper. Seriously, Marc Menchaca is extremely unlikable in this movie and I don’t mean because he’s the villain, I mean he’s just…so boring and uninteresting. We never even learn his motives or what makes him tick, he’s just a bad guy who is good at manipulation and likes to rape and kills women. That’s all we know and that’s all the movie cares to tell us.
What you end up with by the end of the story is a film that started on good ground but saw a shift in soul. At the beginning “Alone” feels like a spectacular slow burn promising to develop it characters and explore the nuanced relationship between a woman and a stranger and maybe make us question which one is the true villain, the strange man looking for help or the damaged woman. All of that goes out the window in the second act making the Man a generic bad guy with little to no personality and draining Jessica of much of her emotional complexity in favor of making her an admittedly badass heroine that has to test her will to live. Either of these concepts could have made fine movies on their own but together they don’t blend well and while Jules Wilcox manages to bring out the best in her character all the way through, as inconsistent as her characterization is purely thanks to the screenplay, Marc Menchaca does nothing to create a compelling villain beyond the first half of the film leaving us with a hollow conclusion that fails to compliment the promise of its introduction.
“Alone” is still very watchable though. There were parts that made me cringe, I did find myself rooting for Jessica in the final two acts, and even if it is a cliché in this day and age it’s always cool to see an effective and memorable badass woman fight against her attacker and actually show some real survival skills in the process. But that’s the second half of the film and I didn’t want to see that movie. I wanted to see the first half of this film play out as it promised. I wanted to see a narrative about an emotionally struggling woman dealing with an uncomfortable situation and in a scenario that could provide some commentary on how fear can be as simple as the terror of reality and the unknown blending together. That’s the kind of story this could have and should have been, especially with a title like “Alone” to compliment it. Instead it settled for being a typical survival thriller which is fun and all, but not what we deserved. If you want to give it a shot, “Alone” is a fun waste of time and offers bits of brilliance, but for me it felt like a jumbled mess with several different acceptable parts that never melded into a truly great whole.