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ALONE (2020) review

September 18, 2020


written by: Mattias Olsson
produced by: Jordan Foley, Mike Macari, Jonathan Rosenthal, Nick Smith, Thom Zadra & Henrik JP Åkesson
directed by: John Hyams
rated: not rated
runtime: 98 min.
U.S. release date: September 18, 2020 (virtual cinema, select theaters and VOD) 


The title is misleading. The woman at the center of this thriller is never truly “Alone”. Maybe a better title would be “Pursued” since that’s what happens to her from start to finish. Screenwriter Mattias Olsson wrote and co-directed (with Henrik JP Åkesson, who serves as on of many producers here) the 2011 Swedish film, “Gone” (or “Försvunnen”), a more appropriate title, which this Americanized version is based on. Olsson returns to pen this English-language redo, teaming with director John Hyams in an attempt to craft an suspenseful viewing experience, that barely offers any real unsettling moments or straight up thrills. It is essentially an abduction and survival tale that delivers mood over any real tension.

When we meet Jessica (Jules Willcox) she’s packed up a trailer that’s attached to her vehicle and loaded with her belongings and plans on driving north of Oregon. It’s initially unclear what or who she’s driving from or what her eventual destination is, but it’s clear she has to get out on the road. She gets emotional swiping through photos on her phone, depicting a happier time when her husband was still alive. Through brief phone conversations with her concerned parents (primarily her father, since she’s ignoring her mother), we learn Jessica became a widow suddenly some six months ago and it could be she’s looking for a life change after unsuccessfully wrestling with grief.

As she makes her way deeper into a remote forested region, driving along winding roads, Jessica comes up behind a black Jeep that’s driving below the speed limit. Frustrated, she tries to go around the driver, but she is almost forced into oncoming traffic by the Jeep driver. Gathering herself after that close call, Jessica continues her journey but is unknowingly being trailed by this suspicious driver (Marc Menchaca), who approaches her in an apologetic manner, swearing their initial interaction was a misunderstanding. After a couple other creepy encounters with this Man, Jessica starts to realize that she is deliberately being pursued and begins to fear for her life.



Right away, what we’re introduced to seems kind of familiar. Young white woman traveling alone is pursued by middle-age white guy who seems just a little off. After some stops at gas stations and rest areas, the mysterious black Jeep manages to catch up with Jessica on interstate highways and mountain roads. Like the truck in Spielberg’s “Duel”, he seems to be at every corner and turn and while he’s not as “Unhinged” as Russell Crowe, this Man keeps preventing Jessica from continuing with her travel plans. Next thing she knows, Jessica wakes up in a cabin in the woods (never a good sign) and soon has to use her wits and adrenaline to escape, hoping to flee her captor.

The main problem is she doesn’t know where she is, just that she has to navigate her way through dense wilderness, hoping she can find someone to help her while being pursued by a Man she believes will kill her.

What’s the deal with this guy anyway? He’s definitely a predator. He also knows this particular area in the Pacific Northwest and has a way in which he chooses and approaches his prey. While Jessica is locked up in his cabin’s basement, we learn she’s not the first one, but it’s unclear how far he’s gone with his captives in the past. Is he a rapist or a murderer, or both? We also learn there’s a certain amount of duality in his life as he’s overheard talking to his wife and child on his phone.



Understandably, the story’s focus is primarily on Jessica, but some added layers for her antagonist would be helpful. We see a little bit of his inner workings when he catches up to Jessica after she’s run off, using what he knows of her backstory to convince Robert (nice to see Anthony Heald, chiefly known for his role as Dr. Frederick Chilton in “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Red Dragon”, movies that also include female abduction and predators) a local hunter that’s he’s Jessica’s brother and she’s mentally unstable and has run off after having one of her spells. It’s an interesting when another character is added into the mix, asking the viewer what exactly this seemingly kind stranger who happens upon this disheveled, distressed, and barefoot young woman should make of this situation.

A movie like this relies on it’s main cast as much as it does visceral thrills and the two main players in “Alone” are good, if only their characters were given a little more than something physical to do. Menchaca is best when we first meet him, acting as a somewhat unassuming albeit strange local when he taps on Jessica’s car window. But after a while, he comes across as the kind of predator we’ve seen in other movies, going on about fear and asking Jessica to “show him some guts”. It winds up being a sadly unoriginal characterization when he could’ve been more psychologically complex. Rooting for Willcox’s Jessica is easy. The actor conveys this underlying grief and restlessness that’s palpable, but what her character lacks is an identifiable personality that would give viewers something even more to invest in. Because they are written with these broad strokes, both protagonist and antagonist wind up essentially feeling more familiar than memorable.

Olssom breaks down the storyline into titled segments that pop up on the screen, such as “The Road”, “The River” and “The Rain” and “The Night” and “The Clearing”, but only some of them describe formidable environments and situations. For a movie that includes wilderness survival, most of those segments could’ve been much more precarious to navigate than what we see unfold. There’s a set-up and structure to “Alone” to deliver a formidable thriller, but Hyams just doesn’t push the characters and their environment to the edge, offering more pauses than unrelenting momentum.





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