Jules Willcox as Jessica
Marc Menchaca as Man
Anthony Heald as Robert
Jonathan Rosenthal as Eric
Directed by John Hyams; Written by Mattias Olsson
The survivalist thriller genre has seen everything from the most basic of events to convoluted motivations and leaps in logic and often times it’s truly at its best when it’s at its simplest and though Alone‘s more stripped-down exercise in the genre may feel a bit familiar, it proves to be exhilarating nonetheless.
Jules Willcox (Netflix’s Bloodline) stars as Jessica, a grief-stricken widow who flees the city in an attempt to cope with the loss of her husband. When Jessica is kidnapped by a mysterious man and locked in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, she escapes into the wilderness and is pursued by her captor. The key cast includes Marc Menchaca (Ozark, The Outsider) and Anthony Heald (The Silence Of The Lambs).
The film starts out fairly routine, a woman embarks on a journey to a new life on her own, estranged from her opinionated mother while still trying to stay connected with her father and suffering from a heartbreak of some kind. Through a handful of cell phone videos and dialogue, we come to somewhat learn why and though it’s supposed to act as a sympathetic connection for viewers with Jessica, it doesn’t prove as effective as it could. With only one moment of breaking down into tears and the rest of the film seeing her skirt around the topic in conversations, it just doesn’t quite feel as believable or moving as it should for getting audiences to root for the protagonist.
That being said, Jessica is mostly a blank slate of a character that audiences can see as a neutral ground so that when someone as quietly suspicious and simultaneously brutal as the unnamed man comes along, we know who to side with. This certainly comes to life brilliantly thanks to the performance of Marc Menchaca, who just chews up every bit of scenery he has both before and after he reveals his true intentions and remains a compelling villain to watch as the film progresses and he becomes more and more detestable.
Another major factor that really keeps the film a thrill to watch is the beautiful direction from Hyams, mostly known for his work as a cinematographer, for helming the final two installments in the Universal Soldier franchise and TV direction. Be it from his time directing 45-minute long episodes on television or a couple of 90-minute indies, the filmmaker shows a strong grasp on pace and atmosphere, keeping the film moving at a brisk pace while allowing Jessica to go through the wringer while coming to grips with her own strength, not to mention he keeps every shot of the film looking pretty breathtaking without any kind of extravagant angles or IMAX-quality cameras being used.
The action in the film is also all very well-executed, taking a minimalist approach to its special effects with the most mild of gore and violence and yet it’s all played to such strong effect that every punch, every broken branch lodged in a body, every knife slice, it all feels real and actually more believable than most big-budget pics with similar injuries. We’re not seeing our protagonist limp for a few minutes then magically shake off her wounds, we actually see her fight to power through the pain to come out victorious in this game of cat-and-mouse and it is an absolute thrill to watch and also begs for more filmmakers to put Jules Willcox in genre-leading roles as with a little more expansive of material, she could join the ranks of recent great final girls including Samara Weaving, Imogen Poots and Jessica Rothe.
Alone is a movie whose only true flaws come in its feelings of familiarity and reliance on formula, but it takes these seeming drawbacks and mostly uses them to create a taut, chilling and thrilling genre pic that is beautifully shot, very well-performed and intricately designed with its usage of sound.