Filmmakers who create thrillers should absorb the lesson that simpler is usually better. An excellent primer would be John Hyams’ lean, mean suspenser that delivers its undeniably familiar plot mechanics in tightly paced, unadorned fashion. Depicting the struggle for survival of a young woman who has the unfortunate luck to encounter a homicidal stalker on the sparsely populated highways of the Pacific Northwest, Alone proves a highly effective genre exercise.
The film’s early section recalls Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel as it includes a vehicular cat-and-mouse game between Jessica (a very good Jules Willcox, Netflix’s Bloodline) and the driver of a black Jeep Grand Cherokee who seems to be deliberately messing with her. Jessica’s nerves are already on edge, since, as we eventually learn, she’s left the big city and hit the road after the recent death of her husband.
Familiar-feeling but harrowing nonetheless.
The encounter proves fleeting enough, but the male driver (Marc Menchaca, HBO’s The Outsider), identified in the credits only as “Man,” shows up again in a parking lot and makes an awkward attempt at an apology. The fact that he looks entirely unassuming, sporting the sort of mustache and wire-rimmed glasses favored by serial killers, only makes Jessica more suspicious. So when she encounters him a third time, this time on the road with his car supposedly broken-down and his arm in a sling, she turns down his request for assistance. But he eventually manages to overpower and drug her at an unexpected moment, and she wakes up to find herself a prisoner in his basement.
Before the villain can fulfill his obviously evil intent, Jessica manages to escape, leading the film into The Most Dangerous Game territory as she desperately tries to evade her pursuer in the wilderness while also facing various challenges provided by nature. This section includes the film’s single most intense scene, involving her encounter with a hunter (Anthony Heald, The Silence of the Lambs, in a brief but terrific turn) who tries to help her, only to find himself caught in the middle between the desperately frightened woman and her tormentor, who claims that she’s his mentally disturbed sibling.
As mentioned previously, there’s little that goes on that will greatly surprise thriller fans. But Alone, a remake of the 2011 Swedish film Gone, is surprisingly effective nonetheless. The screenplay by Mattias Olsson (who scripted and co-directed the original film) is sleek and to the point, not breaking up its momentum with distracting subplots or excessive background information. And director Hyams, whose credits include two Universal Soldier sequels, delivers the action in clear, un-baroque fashion, maintaining a measured pace and avoiding excessive stylistic flourishes. Federico Verardi’s handsome widescreen lensing of the scenic natural settings proves another plus.
The two leads, who essentially carry the picture, deliver on all fronts. Willcox powerfully conveys her character’s complex mixture of fear and fortitude, and an underplaying Menchaca makes for a chillingly banal but clearly very dangerous psycho. At one point we hear his predator calmly talking on the phone to family members who are clearly unaware of his malevolent core, suggesting all too convincingly that none of us can be fully sure that someone we know, or even someone we love, is not in fact a monster.
Available in theaters and On Demand
Production companies: Mill House Motion Pictures, Paperclip Ltd., XYZ Films
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Cast: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald
Director: John Hyams
Screenwriter: Mattias Olsson
Producers: Jordan Foley, Jonathan Rosenthal, Mike Macari, Henrik JP Akesson
Executive producers: Yeardley Smith, Ben Cornwell, Kevin Sullivan, Martin Persson
Director of photography: Federico Verardi
Production designer: Cait Pantano
Editors: Scott Roon, John Hyams
Composer: Nima Fakhrara
Costume designer: Ashley Russell
Rated R, 98 minutes