Film Review – Alone
As we continue to live our lives in varying degrees of isolation, it is only natural that films filmed prior to March 2020 may have the upper hand in preying on our enhanced fear and hyper-self-awareness. After the debacle of Unhinged, director John Hyams brings us a worthy contender for one of the top thrillers of the year with Alone.
Alone follows Jessica (Jules Willcox) as she departs a big city and heads north by herself, only a small U-Haul trailer attached to her Volvo station wagon holds her belongings. She has trepidation about this journey; she is not confident in her choices, already spacing out at traffic lights when she is still in the city. Through her progress in the rural wilderness and two-lane highways, her motivations become more evident as the layers of her story are peeled back.
If you have ever traveled long distances on two-lane highways, you will inevitably have to pass a slow-moving vehicle in the other lane of traffic. Jessica’s task of passing a Jeep becomes a bit more complicated with a trailer hitched up to her car. She decides to pass this Jeep, and then the Jeep speeds up to not let her pass him. An oncoming semi makes maneuver dangerous, and the Jeep eventually slows down so Jessica may get back in the lane. After getting in front of the Jeep, it starts to flash its lights and honk. Already flummoxed by the situation, Jessica pulls over to take a breather, and the Jeep keeps going. The situation is scary and becomes even more so when that same Jeep shows up at the motel at which Jessica is staying. A Man (Marc Menchaca) approaches and apologizes for his actions from the previous day. Jessica is uneasy about this interaction, as we all should be.
This interaction becomes a game of cat and mouse, with the Man continuing to reappear and “run” into Jessica. Feeling he has been affronted one too many times by this woman, the Man takes his aggression out on Jessica and puts into motion the task of kidnapping her with unknown motivations for doing so.
The film takes place in four parts; each part name is just a little more ominous than the one before it. The rural wilderness of Oregon is a backdrop and also a character of its own. Evergreen canopies and raging rivers hide dangers and yet give shelter or a means of escape for those needing it. The remoteness lends an element of danger, and the spotty cell phone coverage makes the setting a bit dangerous. It is not just off the highway somewhere; these are places that people go to get lost . . . or forgotten.
Marc Menchaca is a stellar actor (Homeland, Ozark, The Outsider) and a capable screenwriter and director in his own right (This Is Where We Live). His being part of the cast drew me to Alone. Menchaca has signature strawberry blonde hair and a penchant for facial hair, and while he is immediately recognizable, he can disappear into his character. With his character of Man and his 80s wire-rimmed glasses, he elicits stranger danger and unsettling niceness so much that the audience knows something is off with him. It isn’t until he puts into motion the act of kidnapping Jessica that confirms what kind of person he is becomes a reality. There is also duplicity in the character that I won’t spoil but reaffirms that he is not what he presents to the world.
Alone is a solid thriller, and I would put it up there with The Invisible Man in terms of being one of the best of the year. It brings the audience to the edge of your seat, biting your nails, wondering what is going to happen next. Jessica is the character we root for, but sometimes she makes questionable choices that have you screaming at the screen for her to do the opposite. Anything you could possibly want from a thriller is present in Alone. Screenwriter Mattias Olsson crafted a story that could occur anywhere remote in the world with the same result. Director Hyams knows when to focus on the setting, Jessica, or the Man, creating quiet moments that reset the adrenaline in the audience, only to ramp it up again with a change in the story. Alone is another film that begs to be seen in a dark theatre, but it certainly does quite well in a darkened room at home.