Grueling and pulse-pounding, ALONE is a punishingly tense story of grief and survival that takes every woman’s worst nightmare and turns it into a harrowing thriller. Jessica (Jules Willcox) lost her husband six months ago. She moves out of the city to get away from the home that they shared together and drives through the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest to get to her new home and a fresh start. She’s not on the road long before another driver (Marc Menchaca, credited only as Man) menaces her, first blocking every attempt she makes at passing him and then showing up whenever she stops at a gas station or a rest area. Jessica seems to do everything right, never rolling her window down more than a few inches whenever he tries to talk to her and refusing to let him into her car when he asks to get a lift after a suspicious breakdown. Unfortunately, her precautions can’t save her from the Man’s cruel persistence, and he abducts her and takes her to a remote cabin. She manages to escape the cabin, but her nightmare is only beginning.
ALONE is tense and frightening from the very first shot. Every image of Jessica and her car feels voyeuristic and dangerous; the camera sneaks up alongside her at odd angles and emphasizes her vulnerability. There isn’t a single right angle in the movie. Everything is canted and skewed, putting the viewer on edge and letting them know that no matter how bad things are right now, the worst is yet to come. The camera rarely stays still for more than a few seconds, either. It’s not disorienting so much as it is unnerving; director John Hyams and cinematographer Federico Verardi make stellar use of slow pushes and agonizing pans that underscore the danger that surrounds Jessica as the Man stalks her down isolated roads, in empty parking lots, and through the dense forest. The camerawork doesn’t call attention to itself, but it masterfully establishes the threat that looms over the protagonist at all times.
Being a woman alone on the road can be a terrifying experience, and Jessica realizes immediately that the Man is dangerous. With sparse dialogue and few characters, Hyams relies a great deal on his lead actress’s face, particularly her eyes, to tell Jessica’s story, and Willcox more than rises to the challenge. The guilt and grief over her husband’s death war with the terror, panic, and pain she experiences at the hands of the Man. As he relentlessly stalks and tortures her, an animalistic craftiness starts to take hold in Jessica, and it’s breathtaking to witness her fierce determination to survive no matter what it takes. It’s an incredible performance that is matched by her co-stars Menchaca and Anthony Heald, who plays Robert, a hunter who happens upon Jessica in the middle of her escape. Heald puts just the right note of ambiguity into his performance, and Menchaca is absolutely chilling. He rarely raises his voice; rather, he plays the Man with dead-eyed persistence and cruel amusement at Jessica’s sorrow. He is terrifying in his calm and clearly experienced pursuit of another woman to murder, and his moments of rage are all the more frightening when they erupt out of his placid façade.
ALONE makes brilliant use of its setting, establishing the trees and rocks themselves as potential sources of danger and using frequent overhead shots of the massive forest and river to emphasize how small and vulnerable Jessica truly is. The stuntwork adds to the terror as well, particularly during a moment when Jessica seems to disappear below the surface of a raging river as she tries to evade the Man. The score is eerie and effective, but it is even more sparse than the dialogue. Hyams prefers to use ambient noise to increase the tension, employing automotive noises and chirping birds as a way to stretch out tense moments until they are nearly unbearable.
This is a film that will elevate the viewer’s heart rate, especially the women in the audience who relate to Jessica’s predicament of being followed by a man who refuses to give up on his prey. ALONE is grueling and agonizing at times, but it is a superbly constructed thriller with a phenomenal cast and impressive camerawork. It is a taut and satisfying tale of survival that rewards viewers for bearing the non-stop tension and making it through to the other side.
John Hyam’s ALONE had its world premiere at this year’s digital Fantasia International Film Festival. Magnet Releasing will release ALONE in theaters and on-demand on September 18th, 2020.