Canadian mystery/horror about two people who wake up in bloody bandages, and unable to remember a thing. Is the caretaker trying to heal them, or are they his captives?
In case there is some risk of confusion, Alive., which had its UK premiere at Grimmfest, is not a remake of the 1993 film about the Uruguayan rugby team who suffered an aeroplane crash in the mountains. Nothing like it. This Alive. is tragic and unpleasant in utterly different ways.
To start off with, the scenario seemed kind of familiar, though I wasn’t sure what was familiar about it: I’ve seen films with people who didn’t know who or where they were; films about escaping from a weird, bloody room; and even a film in which a mad doctor kept people from getting better… but which one was this? There was a definite sense of mystery from the start; and I had to wonder was this the sort of film which would leave things unresolved, or would it turn out to be reasonably satisfying: an ambiguous start can go either way, after all.
So I just watched and rolled with it… kind of like the “patients” had to, as they didn’t know what was going on either. “Male Patient” was played by Thomas Cocquerel, and “Female Patient” by Camille Stopps. They both did an equally fine job of portraying people in pain, bafflement, paranoia and fear. I found it interesting to see the way their bond developed as the story went along; especially as Female Patient kept adjusting the way she related to their caretaker. He was simply known as “The Man” according to the credits and played by the one familiar name in this film, Angus Macfadyen (I remember seeing him in Saw III and IV; others may have seen him in Braveheart). He kept everything close to his chest, dropping just tiny clues along the way about his agenda: his relationship with the “patients” and even his personality was anyone’s guess, and he seemed like a wannabe Lector at times.
Alive.‘s production was excellent, though it was clearly a pretty low-budget piece. The interior locations were nasty through and through; a clinical medical setting where the patients first come round and then bloody hallways behind the scenes and then worse (cue the visceral special effects). The contrast with some exterior scenes (huge skies and mountain valleys) was palpable: I could really feel the patients’ relief at being outdoors, tantalising though it was at first.
Rob Grant’s direction kept Alive. tense throughout, even through the early – fairly slow – half. That first half showed the patients gradually healing and gradually developing some strength and confidence; which clearly took several days, so there was no point rushing the action as such. The writers also took care to lay down several clues and make sure everything made internal sense so that the mystery reveal (yes, there is a resolution) fitted at the end.
Yet although it fitted, I’m afraid I couldn’t help feeling that it would have fit just as well at the end of a 30-minute film, rather than a 90-minute one: the finale was a punch in the gut which made me feel slightly nauseous… but there was an awful lot of build-up to what was essentially a one-scene punchline (albeit a massive one). If you’re a cinema purist, do stay through the credits, as there is an extra scene; I don’t know if this is included to signal a sequel (not out of the question), or just to give the audience an extra Carrie-style shock. If the latter, it was quite unnecessary, as the main conclusion was really shocking enough (despite being rubbed in with a cheap visual joke).
Alive. is definitely a mystery horror with a greater emphasis on the mystery; there is more blood than violence in this horror (a surprise, perhaps, if you’ve seen Grant’s earlier titles), but I promise the horror will catch up with you at the end. I plan to watch it again, now that I have some knowledge I can apply: I’m sure the writing will hold up and it wouldn’t surprise me if the tension does too.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.