Alone [Grimmfest] Review: Battle the Elements
Stop me if this sounds familiar. A woman travels alone at night on deserted streets, tormented by an unknown driver, and is eventually kidnapped and held captive in a secluded cabin in the woods. Of course it sounds familiar, it’s a narrative that has been explored in Horror films many times before, but Alone manages to take this well worn premise and deliver thrills, mystery and suspense.
Jessica (Jules Willcox) is running from a trauma, she’s packed up her U-Haul trailer and is setting off for parts unknown. It doesn’t matter where, because this journey is clearly not about a physical location. She’s avoiding calls from her mum, she left her parents house early and she’s clearly in an emotional state, one of introversion instead of externalisation. Her home problems soon become the least of her worries when she runs into a black Jeep with a terrifying driver.
The first act of this film is a series of tense and distressing escalations. The simple opening of Jessica attempting to overtake the ominous black Jeep only for it to play chicken with her and almost cause a crash had me flashing back to every bad experience I’ve had on the road, and the heart fluttering, stomach dropping, feeling induced by them. But, the road rage is only the beginning.
At a truck stop Jessica is approached by the owner of said Jeep, simply known in the credits as Man (Marc Menchaca), as he attempts some creepy half assed apology that reeks of disingenuousness. With his plaid shirt, giant glasses and bushy ‘stache he definitely has the look of a 70’s serial killer, somewhere between an aggressive Ned Flanders and Jeffery Dahmer. His simple presence, before he even proves himself to be a psychopathic and sadistic serial killer, made my skin crawl. There is a stiltedness to Menchaca’s performance that worked incredibly well for me and was testament to his understanding of this character.
“This girl fights back and refuses to give in.”
Director, John Hyams, keeps the pacing tight, pushing us forward through the kidnapping narrative without feeling the need to drench us in exposition about why, and from what, Jessica is running. He also doesn’t resort to some of the usual tropes of these types of film, avoiding excessive torture and sexual assault and instead focussing on the psychological abuse and the testing circumstances of her escape. The kidnap is a starter, it’s the escape that the main course.
The major thread of the film is about Jessica’s trials as she runs from her twisted kidnapper, she begins on The Road and must battle The River, The Rain and The Night to gain her freedom. As a woman who enjoys horror films it’s always refreshing to see a female character who acts with sense and can handle herself in difficult circumstances. Sure, there are still some dumb decisions made, but they’re needed to allow this situation to unfold. For the most part Jessica is intelligent, strong and persists in overcoming her captor. This girl fights back and refuses to give in.
Jules Willcox does a great job of holding up this film, as the title suggests, Alone, and gives just enough emotion to make us care for her plight without succumbing to her trauma. She carries the narrative, pulling the audience in during long, drawn out scenes of tension and demonstrating exhausted strength during the moments of action and conflict. During a scene in which Jessica has been ‘rescued’ by a lone hunter Richard (Anthony Heald) the two are stopped by a fallen tree and the Man catches up with them. He attempts his usual ‘good guy’ manipulation, and I waited for his gaslighting to be believed, for Jessica to be doubted and ignored by Richard like so many women in Horror movies. I was pleasantly surprised that this typical route wasn’t taken,even if it didn’t end particularly well for the kind stranger.
Hyams is not afraid of holding a scene for an uneasy length of time to draw out the tension and fear being felt by our protagonist as she runs and hides from the Man. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller that gives us time to think about what our own reactions and responses might be to each circumstance. Alone lets the conflict and tension rise to an intense climactic resolution that satisfies the audience after an emotional road raged journey.