There’s nothing worse than being lost in the woods. One wrong turn can mean instant death, or worse, a never ending circle of which you’ll never get out of. Throw in a serial killer pursuing your every step, and we have ourselves an effective recipe for a thriller.
John Hyams uses these ingredients for his film, Alone, which is set to be released on September 18th. While this formula has been recycled in one slasher flick after another, Alone takes a more thoughtful approach in terms of story-telling and characterization.
Alone tells the story of Jessica Swanson (Jules Willcox), a widow who’s returning to her family after her husband’s death. After being pursued and kidnapped by a serial killer (Marc Menchaca), Jessica finds herself trapped in the basement of a cabin located in the wilderness. With only her instincts, Jessica must not only escape the clutches of her kidnapper, but also brave the woodlands of the Pacific Northwest.
As a thriller, Alone works quite well. The pacing is good, with moments of suspense and relative ease mixed together. The film’s setting in the forests of Oregon makes for an instantly foreboding and eerie atmosphere, especially during sequences involving nightfall.
Yet the driving forces of any thriller are the characters – and Alone is most definitely a character-driven ride.
Jules Willcox is well-cast as Jessica Swanson. She starts as a vulnerable individual who’s pursued by a malicious entity, but whether facing down her pursuer or navigating through the forest, Jessica gradually overcomes her vulnerabilities and learns to fend for herself. Alone doesn’t go too overboard in divulging Jessica’s strengths and weaknesses. She’s neither a damsel in distress nor a total badass, so much as she’s a human being who’s forced off course by unexpected circumstances, and she must adapt accordingly. Anyone can relate to this dilemma, and Willcox gains our sympathy with ease.
As for the film’s antagonist, Marc Menchaca is spectacular in the role. Portraying a nameless serial killer, Menchaca serves up a compelling blend of charm and indifference that is typical of many murderers. He’s friendly in his appearance, even revealing himself to be a family man of sorts. Yet, the real man is an emotionless psychopath who wears a friendly mask. Menchaca is warm and soft when addressing unsuspecting bystanders, yet he’s distant and unemotional as he taunts Jessica in hiding, revealing the true disconnection he has with humanity. The more time we spend with him, the more we grow to despise him, which makes for a great antagonist in this case.
Willcox’s and Menchaca’s performances are the main strengths of this film. In terms of weaknesses, Alone has a few that are noticeable.
Interspersed throughout the film are deliberate breaks, which include a title for each segment. “The Road” details Jessica’s first encounters with the Killer, “The River” involves her kidnapping, “The Night” involves her fleeing the Killer in pursuit, and so on. These moments are meant to help guide the audience through the story, but overall, it is unnecessary. Most can figure out where they are in terms of the plot without these breaks.
Probably the biggest flaw with Alone is that even with the pacing and characterization, it is still predictable. Anyone familiar with Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game will notice the similarities between the classic short story and this film (i.e. a protagonist literally hunted in the wilderness by the antagonist). In many ways, Alone feels like a subtle retelling of the classic, and – if that’s the case – it does a decent job at doing it. Otherwise, Alone doesn’t bring anything new to the thriller genre in terms of originality. Those unfamiliar with Connell’s short story might be in for a real treat, but others may easily see what the ending has in store before anyone else does.
This aside, Alone is anything but dull. Hyams has produced an effectively character-driven film, and the bond we develop with Jessica – along with the hatred we develop for her pursuer – go deep. It won’t go down as a classic, but it won’t be a waste of a view either, especially a month before Halloween.
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Alone is a decently-executed thriller about a young woman pursued by a vicious killer in the wilderness. While the film has its obvious nods to similar stories of the past, it has an effective plot with exciting sequences and compelling characters.
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