Based on a 2011 Swedish film titled Gone, Alone is a survival thriller from director John Hyams, who may be best known for helming the third and fourth instalments the Universal Soldier franchise. Alone could not be further away from UniSol shoot-’em-up action, though, as Hyams has delivered a tense and effective game of forest-bound cat and mouse.
Jessica (Jules Willcox) is moving across country following a tragedy and having packed her possessions into a trailer, hits the forest-lined roads of the Pacific Northwest. Travelling alone and after dark in order to make good time, a road rage incident on an unpopulated highway leaves her understandably shaken. As Jessica continues on her journey, she notices the vehicle from the incident at seemingly every stop. Inevitably, the situation escalates and Jessica finds herself in the forest, on the run from the driver (Marc Menchaca). And that’s all you need to know about the plot without entering spoiler territory; suffice it to say, if it’s not too late, you should also give the film’s overly revealing trailer a wide berth (we’ve even decided to just include a clip beneath the review, instead of the usual official trailer).
Alone finds itself divided into two distinct halves and although it leans into predictability, bringing to mind several pursuit thriller classics, it’s still very good at what it does. The first half of the film, as Jessica is stalked by a mysterious vehicle, is reminiscent of Spielberg’s Duel and for all the right reasons. It’s tense and paranoid and nervy. While the second half feels more like a rural slasher when the driver, known only as ‘Man’, pursues Jessica into the forest.
Hyams manages to wring every ounce of tension out of both concepts. The build-up constantly has us on edge until the suspense laden direction change. On paper and in lesser hands this story could quite easily grind away into nothing, but the characters are strong and Jessica avoids genre pitfalls by making mostly rational decisions, only to find her predicament worsen. So Alone subverts your expectations in this regard. Logically, Alone plays out much like the advice you will no doubt be shouting at the screen, and it’s fun to realise you’re not quite the smartass you thought you were.
Jules Willcox is excellent as Jessica and perfectly conveys her feelings of unease and palpable discomfort when the Man introduces himself ““ a friendly interaction on the face of things, but seething with sinister intent and terrifying possibility. Jessica is battered by personal trauma and seemingly exhausted from minute one, so her story is about a potential rediscovery of strength.
On the other side, Marc Menchaca, best known as the beardy Russ Langmore in Ozark, is also excellent. His disarming appearance hides the heart of a monster. His apparent normalcy makes the situation believable – and therefore terrifying. But the mask quickly lifts once his motives become clear. He terrorises Jessica both psychologically and physically, berating her whenever he can, just to get under her skin.
Alone ends up being quite crafty in way. When it’s over you can’t exactly say it wasn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s impossible to deny its status as a nail biter. Alone is skillfully put together, a tense and suspenseful thriller that hooks you from the opening and doesn’t let you go.