John Hyams’ Alone

It’s tough to find thrillers that are actually consistently suspenseful throughout, that go above and beyond in their job of, you know, thrilling the audience. John Hyams’ Alone is like an hour and a half panic attack put to film, a sleek, ruthless, transparently simple yet magnificently executed genre exercise in terror, isolation and pursuit that entertains so well it’s made it onto my top ten of the year (so far). The story couldn’t be more distilled into tunnel vision high concept fashion: a lone girl (Jules Willcox) packs up her modest belongings into a U-Haul trailer, says goodbye to Portland, the tragedy she lived through there and heads out onto the highways of Oregon, through the lush Autumn Pacific Northwest to bury her trauma, forget the past and start a new life elsewhere. After a scary traffic incident with a mysterious black Jeep, she finds herself stalked and eventually kidnapped by its driver, a creepy loner played by the imposing Mark Menchaca. She’s imprisoned in his remote cabin, fights her way to escape and so begins a breakneck, cutthroat cat and mouse game for survival across the rough but beautiful boreal rainforest, chased doggedly through the brush by this unhinged yet calculating and quite clever maniac. This film impressed me a lot because at no point did I I award any scene with the oft used utterance of “Yeah right” as something implausible or farfetched happened. Everything here, although heightened and extreme as any thriller of its type, feels like it actually could happen for real. Our heroine is brave, resourceful, logical in her strategies and commands our sympathy and support. Our villain is tactical, psychologically manipulative, terrifyingly predatory and straight evil right to the bone. Director John Hyams is the son of Peter Hyams, who made quite a few awesome films back in the day and it seems the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, at least here. His shot composition is gorgeous, full of austere, somehow peaceful overhead shots of the trees, opaquely suggesting the drama unfolding beneath their foliage while maintaining a beautiful yet eerie elemental atmosphere. The film is split up into chapters given titles like ‘The Road’, ‘The River’, ‘The Rain’, a welcome lyrical touch. There’s an absolutely wonderful sound design transition in which a rapidly beating heart morphs into the percussive rhythm of a helicopter propellor that is just so inspired and worth the price of admission alone. I think what I loved most about this fantastic film was the deeply affecting themes humming along harmonious in the background; there’s a reason it’s called ‘Alone’, and it’s not because she was driving those highways by herself when the killer picked her. This woman has been through hell before our story finds her, and in a way her horrific ordeal with this adversary serves as a form of redemption, a coming to terms with past trauma. Now, in a lesser film this would have perhaps been too obvious and heavy handed, but those themes are so expertly integrated and the film overall so well crafted, so brisk yet full of depth if you take the time to look, so thrilling and full of life, atmosphere and excitement, it comes out a winner all across the board. A must watch.

-Nate Hill

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