Jessica is returning to her hometown to help process the untimely death of her beloved husband. After an incident on a lonely Pacific Northwestern roadway, she triggers the bloodlust of a merciless psychopath. Disoriented, and utterly terrified, she must reassemble the fragments of her shattered resolve and escape the deranged madman that hunts her.
Director John Hyams ruminated on Mattias Olssons‘ electrifying script for Alone for seven years before unleashing this intense chair gripper and it shows. Like an acoustic version of your favourite pop song, it distils the elements of composition until all that is left is the steely sinews of the hooks and ethereal essence of the melody.
We never leave Jessica’s side as we become immersed in her escalating plight, relishing each step towards freedom and sinking into despair with each heart-wrenching setback. Hyams relentlessly dangles the prospect of deliverance in our faces, only to whip it away again with dastardly relish.
The only breather we really get is during the brief appearance of simplistic title cards. These two worded chapter headings further serve to deconstruct and compartmentalise Jessica’s struggle and her assailant’s dogged pursuit. They also include one of the only concessions to humour in the entire movie, a testament to the inherent subtlety and underlying mischievousness of Alone.
Securing the right actors was obviously a priority in such an encapsulated project with physically demanding roles that offer no creative safe houses. However, the talented cast rise to the challenge with powerhouse performances of intensive believability.
Jules Willcox is superb as the beleaguered Jessica. There are moments when her desperation is hard to stomach and others when her ingenuity and courage is exhilarating. Willcox has the range to nail both ends of the spectrum and the scene where she refuses to be put on survival tilt by her twisted adversary is one for the ages.
Marc Menchaca is equally magnificent as her unnamed nemesis, pitching his thespian tent in the unholy no man’s land between Ned Flanders and Ted Bundy. His range is impressive too as he darts between raging psychopath with a hypocritical grasp of honour and calm family man with a rational grasp of humanism.
Federico Verardi‘s evocative Cinematography switches between intimacy and expanse with confident ease. He imbues both geographical clarity and in your face menace with an economy and style that galvanises the film’s sense of urgency.
Hyams’ impossibly lean survival thriller is a triumph of cinematic craft and streamlined storytelling. A bare-bones masterpiece of unrelenting suspense, in a microcosm of primal savagery where every decision matters and every mistake potentially fatal. This stripped-back methodology echoes the finest work of Walter Hill and John Boorman whilst executing a coldly modernist take on the minimalist thriller.
As a director, he has threatened greatness before with the astonishingly violent fuck’em up flick Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. With Alone he showcases his uncanny sense of the ebb and flow of visual language, a deft knack with aesthetic cohesion that can deep dive into the human condition, yet make a runtime fly by in an instant.
Like Gaspar Noé, Elem Klimov and Sidney Lumet his narrative artistry is reliant on the vibrancy of instinct rather than stagnant conventionalism.
Suspense thriller, Survival horror | USA, 2020 | 18| Digital HD | 28th December 2020 (UK) | Signature Entertainment | Dir. John Hyams | Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald