Alone builds tension well throughout, maintaining an atmosphere of persistent threat that contributes to making this an effective if not remarkable exercise in stripped back thriller film-making.
After a traumatic event, Jessica (Jules Willcox) is moving away. Having packed her things up in a trailer, she embarks on a road trip through the American countryside. On the road, she encounters the same car repeatedly, behaving strangely and almost causing a serious crash. Perturbed by this odd behaviour, she is later disconcerted to see the man in the car (Marc Menchaca) approach her vehicle, only for him to apologise for his strange behaviour. Eager to put it behind her, she accepts and tries to move on from the strangeness as she focuses on more personal matters. She talks on the phone with her parents who are worried as she has left on her journey early, without waiting for their help, but she’s adamant about her decision to go ahead with the move. All the while, the mysterious man in the car keeps appearing wherever she happens to be, and it becomes clear that her suspicions about him having far more nefarious intentions than he made out could well be correct.
This is a pretty simple premise, and the cat-and-mouse dynamic that it focuses on has been done many times before, but director John Hyams does a good job of building tension, using the beautiful, if stark, American landscape to good effect as a cold backdrop for the events that unfold, which is incredibly effective when brought together with the strong sound design and Nima Fakhrara’s excellent, nailbiting score. The atmosphere is certainly very well crafted.
In amidst this atmosphere, however, is a sense that the film isn’t bringing anything new to the table. The performances of the two lead actors are both strong, and Menchaca brings a creepy menace (and a beautiful evil moustache) to his unnamed character (the credits refer to him as The Man) that is commendable, but the actual substance itself is lacking. Willcox also brings a good amount of personality to Jessica’s character, but, like Menchaca, she is always fighting against the cookie cutter mould that shapes her character, and in the end it is a losing battle as they are ultimately just stock characters going through the motions of a genre film that may be succeeding at what it sets out to do, but not memorably enough to take it above a certain level of watchable, rather than truly resonating on a more impactful level.
There are scenes where the technical elements come together to make a genuinely impressive example of threat building at its finest (a scene that takes place inside The Man’s car comes to mind) but these occur almost independently of the film as a whole, so it could be argued that it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. In the same vein, it can also be commended for action scenes that have a visceral, brutal quality and are well paced and structured, but suffer once more from the film’s unwillingness or inability to explore its themes in a more unique or original fashion.
All of that comes together to form an experience that is undoubtedly generic and never overcomes that particular fault, but which does succeed at being engaging enough for its entire runtime as an exercise in maintaining a sense of persistent tension.
Alone is released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital on July 12th.