Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Although this is familiar territory, with a long pedigree going back through cinematic history, it's no less watchable as a result." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

It's often noted that films on particular subjects tend to cluster, and 2020 is, oddly enough, a year full of films about women being hunted in woodland by hostile men. Alone is not the strongest of these, having a limited focus, but it's well made throughout, with a strong central performance from Jules Willcox, and it will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat.

Willcox plays Jessica, a recently widowed woman leaving the big city to start a new life elsewhere. Along the way, she gets into one of those scary situations with another driver which can happen all too easily when tempers fray. It's nerve-racking, but afterwards she takes some deep breaths and pulls herself together. We get the sense that many aspects of her life feel a bit like this at the moment. It's tough, the process of learning to get by without someone else there to provide support.

Then that other driver (Marc Menchaca) turns up at her motel and apologises, and begins a process of trying to forge a connection with her which most female viewers will find all too familiar, instantly setting her on edge.

Part of what makes Jessica an appealing character is that she doesn't make it easy for him. He uses all the old tricks, appealing to her desire to come across as nice or polite, to the accommodating behaviour that most women are taught from childhood. She, however, is not afraid of being unpleasant. When she wakes up as a prisoner in a remote log cabin in spite of her intelligence and fierceness, the familiar set-up is more disturbing than usual - it will be difficult for viewers to work out how, in her situation, they could have done any better. Even through the ugliness that follows, she does everything right. By the time she manages to escape, you'll be wholly on her side, and not just because you're rooting for the underdog - because you want her, and her specifically, to survive.

In the chase that follows, director John Hyams focuses on the roughness of the wilderness and on the psychological state of his characters. Brief snippets of conversation suggest that the man has kidnapped women like this before, but he seems out of his depth once away from his familiar environment, resorting to the sort of cheap baiting tactics he might have picked up on social media. Jessica is physically weaker, injured, cold, hungry and unarmed, but this is a situation in which intelligence counts for a lot. Nevertheless, she must also battle against the damage that bereavement has done to her confidence and self-worth. Menchaca invites us to observe her internal struggle as she faces up to the external threat.

Although this is familiar territory, with a long pedigree going back through cinematic history, it's no less watchable as a result. What has changed in 2020 is that women have been recognised as protagonists who can fight back in multiple ways, and Alone draws on this to present us with a character study every bit as interesting as the simply physical scares and thrills with which we are presented. There's an impressive cameo from Anthony Heald and the slight story is well structured to take advantage of the environment in which it's set, ensuring that we never lose sight of the greater forces against which no mere human can assume they are going to prevail.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2020
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A recently widowed traveller is kidnapped by a cold blooded killer, only to escape into the wilderness where she is forced to battle against the elements as her pursuer closes in on her.

Director: John Hyams

Writer: Mattias Olsson

Starring: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald

Year: 2020

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: US


Fantasia 2020

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