Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: John Hyams
Writer: Mattias Olsson
Producer: Mike Macari, Henrik JP Akesson, Jordan Foley, Jonathan Rosenthal
Stars: Jules Willcox, Mark Menchaca, Anthony Heald
On the road alone in the wake of her husband¡¯s death, a woman¡¯s repeated encounters with an unsettling man turn into a harrowing fight for survival.
Regarding ¡°Alone¡¯s¡± protagonist, newly widowed Jessica Swanson, I had these thoughts a few minutes into the film:
I¡¯m not a fan of someone in a solo situation having to talk to him/herself or over the phone in order to deliver exposition. Such scenes are always noticeably contrived. (¡°Hey sis! Charlie and I broke up so I¡¯m heading to the lake to meet Julie this weekend. There won¡¯t be any cell service but don¡¯t worry, I am bringing dad¡¯s gun. Don¡¯t tell him though because you know we haven¡¯t spoken in three years.¡±) Any other information you want to put on a platter for the audience while you¡¯re at it?
Yet maybe ¡°Alone¡± needs some similar suggestion because vacant stares while packing her U-Haul or while stuck at a traffic light don¡¯t build a captivating personality. Jessica also listens to an indeterminate audiobook on her drive so we can¡¯t get a clue about her character from music she might listen to either.
Not long after making those notes, Jessica did indeed take a timeout from sullen silence to give her a father a phone call. From this we learn a tiny bit about the emotional despondency motivating Jessica¡¯s abrupt move to a new city. We also learn ¡°Alone¡± will in fact rely on those afore-feared contrivances to make a movie out of the most common clich¨¦s available.
Following a brief game of remote highway Chicken, Jessica finally has her first face-to-face encounter with a mysterious man at the 15-minute mark. Credits only call him ¡®Man,¡¯ though later dialogue names him Sam. Played by ¡°Ozark¡¯s¡± Mark Menchaca, Sam looks like Jason Sudekis disguised in a child killer mustache and wireframe aviator eyeglasses. How else would we know he¡¯s a bad guy if he didn¡¯t immediately emit a distinct impression of Jeffrey Dahmer or Dennis Rader?
In addition to their initial Dennis Weaver duel, Jessica spots the man stalking her at a gas station. He also approaches Jessica outside her motel room, stages a mechanical breakdown to get her to stop in the middle of nowhere, and appears yet again at another rest stop.
These scenes are admittedly tense, getting more mileage out of ¡°what¡¯s going to happen?¡± suspense than action-oriented sequences do during the back half. Sudden headlights, hidden shadows, and moments of misdirection drown Jessica in unknown danger capable of curling fingers around armrests. Yet even though Jessica¡¯s Spider-Sense tingles during their parking lot conversation and again when she sniffs the telltale signs of a trap at the breakdown site, there¡¯s a disconnect in her defensive behavior that doesn¡¯t make sense.
Jessica sees this same guy in five separate unsettling instances over a span of two days and not once does she think to snap a quick pic or write down his license plate number? Sure, she¡¯s distracted by her grief as well as growing fear. But Jessica knows to be wary about rolling down her window for this weirdo yet isn¡¯t smart enough to take even more obvious precautions?
Since there isn¡¯t enough meat in the plot to put a knife and fork into, basic descriptions have to give away that Sam succeeds in capturing Jessica, although she escapes into the woods for a second-half survival scenario. These scenes also cough up typical tropes such as tripping and falling while fleeing, ¡°will he find her?¡± moments where Jessica holds her breath, and Sam menacingly shouting psychological taunts.
It looks like the predator/prey dynamic might take a swerve one hour into the movie when a third person steps onstage. But that potential wrench sees a resolution in a few eye blinks before ¡°Alone¡± resumes its pat cat-and-mouse pursuit.
It¡¯s always a bad sign when you find yourself wishing a movie diverted down a separate thread instead of staying on the simple string in the center. The truth about how Jessica¡¯s husband died introduces an intriguing emotional component but aside from one torrent of tears, we don¡¯t truly see Jessica dealing with that trauma. We also learn Sam has a separate life as a family man. This paves the way for one deliciously wicked sting of revenge during the conclusion except again, we¡¯re left wanting to know more about the impact on Sam¡¯s wife and daughter while ¡°Alone¡± only wants to engage in repetitive running and hiding.
¡°Alone¡± functions fine as a blas¨¦ thriller. I just have a hard time understanding how a project can have a dozen people with some form of producer credit, including ¡°The Simpsons¡± voice actor Yeardley Smith interestingly enough, yet apparently none of them challenged the redundant script by asking, ¡°what makes this different from every other movie about a psychopath chasing someone in the woods?¡± If it can¡¯t be distinguished from countless similar films, maybe take a pass on a premise where one woman in peril has to overcome a series of oppressing obstacles engineered by a madman.
Review Score: 45