John Hyams’ woman vs. man survival thriller is well-acted, shot, and directed, with a simple story and plausible characters.
With a trailer full of everything, ready for a fresh start following the death of her husband, Jessica finds herself first aggravating a gruff stranger and later his captive. Alone takes us on her journey from their initial meeting through to a cat-and-mouse chase in the immense forests of Oregon as Jessica does all she can to survive both the man and the elements.
I’ve seen many films in which a woman is either hunted or captured by a man. Whether they are horrors, thrillers, exploitation, science-fiction, or some genre blend, the captive woman story has been a familiar model for centuries, and extremely workable for cinema. Sometimes it’s about whodunit, sometimes about what he’s done, and sometimes how she will cope, survive or escape. More and more, it’s about revenge. Frankly, I’ve had my fill: I don’t know if it’s the feminist or film-lover in me saying this (I’m the same me, whichever hat I wear), but why are there so many, compared to the number of films about men being captured?
Anyway, if you’re going to make a film with this possibly saturated subject, Alone demonstrates how to do it. There is no over-dramatic music, daft jump scares, ridiculous coincidences, complex traps, or far-fetched characters. I realize I may have said this about other films I felt have worked well: Alone is a success because of how plausible everything is.
Jessica (Jules Willcox, Bloodline) is neither glamorous nor riddled with emotional problems, neither young nor middle-aged, but in both respects rather a relatable in between. She isn’t neatly trained in wilderness skills nor brave in the face of adversity, but instead simply resourceful and pragmatic as a focused approach to see her through. I think many people would cope better than they expect in a crisis (which is why the helpless damsel or hopeless bimbo parts annoy me particularly in survival films). Granted, some may go a little mad in the circumstances, but let’s not go there today. I’m not saying she gets everything right in Alone – Jessica is nothing if not human – but when mistakes are made, they are forgivable, especially as Wilcox’s portrayal means we can easily feel like we know Jessica from the start.
The man she encounters (Marc Menchaca, Ozark, Every Time I Die) is equally believable; perhaps more so because Menchaca is such a strong actor. What’s uncomfortable about this though, is that if a credible down-to-Earth man is a kidnapper and killer in a film, it can make the viewer feel like anyone could be a bad guy underneath. It’s utterly reasonable when Jessica reacts that way when Robert (Anthony Heald, Red Dragon) appears, requiring a lot of convincing before trusting him.
John Hyams’ direction is confident throughout. The simplicity of the story allows for an unhurried pace, so we have the opportunity to feel uneasiness develop gradually, aided by Nima Fakhrara’s (Becky) sparse soundtrack. The forest and river locations are used to full effect, emphasizing that Jessica will have to rely on her own resources, as there is apparently no-one else around for miles. Federico Verardi’s cinematography highlights the beauty and wildness of the natural environment Jessica finds herself in. The forest is a sanctuary, yet it is also the man’s territory, and nature does not take sides. That said, the first act, which takes place on the road, rather than the great outdoors, is just as effective, making use of anxious gazes at the mirror, lights in the darkness, and plenty of interior close shots.
Alone was written by Mattias Olsson, an American remake of the Swedish Gone, which he directed by Mattias Olsson along with Henrik JP Åkesson. It will have its European premiere at Grimmfest on 7 October 2020.