One of my favorite aspects of movie watching lies in discovery. Though I’m familiar with Marc Menchaca’s work (Ozark, Every Time I Die), Jules Willcox (Bloodline) and director John Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) were total blind spots. Alone changes that very equation, and this straight ahead yet ultimately elevated thriller is one for the books.
Still mourning her husband’s passing, Jessica (Jules Willcox) has packed up her belongings to travel amidst the remote roads of the Pacific Northwest. Attempting to pass a slower vehicle, Jessica gets involved in road incident with a stranger (Marc Menchaca).
If we’re lucky, these type of incidents are fleeting and both parties can go along their way. A regrettable encounter leads to what Jessica believes is stalking, as she spots the man several times during her trip. Ultimately refusing to give him roadside help, she ends up in a horrifying and possibly tragic situation.
Kidnapping and escape stories are nothing new in cinema, and many of these stories also have a television of the week feel. Director John Hyams, however, strikes the perfect balance of making Alone a visually immersive film without sinking the story into a pure exploitative exercise.
With locked in performances by Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca, the lean narrative doesn’t give the viewer a moment to breathe, and ultimately that’s a great thing (if you have the stomach for it). Jessica, understandably mired in her own troubles, continues to fight for survival when all may seem lost. Willcox, who actually broke her foot during production (the injury was written into the script), doesn’t hold back with her work, and her believability factor is off the charts. If more filmmakers and producers actually catch Alone, meatier roles should come her way.
Menchaca is a go to actor who plays his role without any hint of camp or showiness, giving his unnamed character the right amount of menace. That said, the man has a standout monologue as he attempts to goad Jessica into a showdown (revealing anything more would be a disservice!). Anthony Heald (The Silence of the Lambs) makes a welcome appearance as a bystander who tries to help Jessica in her absolute time of need.
The story takes place amidst the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, and Mother Nature plays an important role with infusing Alone with an eye catching cinematic quality. Whether it’s among a never ending collection of trees, the unforgiving waters, or a fateful face to face in a clearing, Alone serves up an inspired visceral experience.
To craft a successful thriller, one has to blend pacing into the mix as well, and there are no mundane or repetitive moments to bog down this 98-minute gem. Though almost every moment is a nail-biter, Hyams effectively mixes verité storytelling with pure escapist fare. It’s hard to mix naturalism and popcorn entertainment in a feature, but Hyams is more than up to the task.
As a huge fan of this genre (Brian De Palma and Alfred Hitchcock are my favorite filmmakers), Alone checked off all the boxes. My only warning is to avoid watching this film “alone” if you are easily scared. This one had me on the proverbial edge of my seat from beginning to end, and that can’t be good for anyone’s blood pressure!
Alone hits theaters and On Demand September 18 via Magnet Releasing.
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Rating: 4.5 out of 5