Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald, Jonathan Rosenthal
Written by: Mattias Olsson
Directed by: John Hyams
MPAA Rating: R for violent content and language
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/18/2020

Alone (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Heck of the Woods

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by John Hyams, the well-built, lean thriller Alone works in more or less the ways it's supposed to, but it also has a strong sense of vicious cruelty, and it can leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Jessica (Jules Willcox) is trying to make a fresh start after the death of her husband. She packs a U-Haul and starts driving. On a lonely mountain road, she passes a slow-moving truck, which then speeds up and nearly causes an accident. Later, the driver (Marc Menchaca) spots her in a parking lot and tries to apologize, but Jessica is spooked by him.

Later, she comes upon the same man having car trouble. Panicked, she speeds away. But she loses control of her car and the man catches up to her. She wakes up in a basement, a prisoner. She manages to escape, but between her and safety are the Pacific Northwest woods. Worse, she is barefoot, and the man is in pursuit.

Hyams (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning) has a strong visual style and a good sense of rhythm, and he puts all the story's bits and pieces together in just the right way to create white knuckles. Yet, given that the entire story of Alone is about a relentless, psychopathic stalker trying to harm an innocent (and already victimized) woman, it just doesn't sit right. Similar, but far more controversial exploitation classics like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave at least gave their women a chance to fight back. But here, Jessica is a helpless victim for 95% of the movie.

Additionally, viewers are asked to forgive some strange coincidences and silliness. Firstly, it's totally random that Jessica should come upon the slow-driving psychopath in the first place. Does he drive slowly all the time in the hopes that solo women drivers will try to pass him? And how does he always know where she is? How did he manage to cause her eventual car crash in order to capture her? And why is his phone not passcode-protected?

Given that Alone starts off by recalling Steven Spielberg's early horror movie Duel, perhaps it should have embraced the supernatural qualities of its killer rather than pretending that this is all just happening. It's a shame that laziness and thoughtlessness could ruin an otherwise well-made thriller.

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