John Hyams is known for directing two unexpectedly well-done DTV action sequels, Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Sadly after that, he’s spent eight years directing TV shows. Now, he returns to film with Alone. Working from a script by Mattias Olsson who wrote and co-directed the 2011 Swedish original version, Gone. The result is one of the year’s best thrillers and a film that should get Hyams noticed by the studios.
Jessica (Jules Willcox, Dreamkatcher) is returning to her hometown to try and put the loss of her husband behind her. Somewhere on a narrow winding road, she gets stuck behind a slow-moving Jeep. Slow-moving that is until she tries to pass it. Then it speeds up almost causing her to hit a semi. When she gets past the driver then rides her bumper until she pulls off and loses him. Or so she thinks.
The next morning the driver (Marc Menchaca, Every Time I Die) approaches her and apologizes. Of course, that’s not the end of it. He has plans for her, very unpleasant ones. Soon Jessica will have to fight for her life against both her nameless tormentor and the Oregon wilderness.
Hyams won acclaim for going beyond the typical DTV action template and turning Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning into what felt like a microbudget Apocalypse Now. Alone does just the opposite, it strips the survival film down to its barest bones, two people in conflict, only one of whom can survive.
Mostly dispensing with backstory Alone sets itself up and quickly gets down to business. Moving from Duel styled highway incidents to abduction within the first half-hour. Pausing just long enough to make the stakes very clear and give our heroine a chance to escape it moves into The Most Dangerous Game territory. But unlike the protagonist of Hunting Emma Jessica isn’t a trained fighter. Can she find the will and determination to survive in her already damaged spirit?
Restricting the cast to two people we barely know anything about is a risky move. But the little bit we do know about Jessica plus the situation she finds herself in is enough to get us to care about her. Her performance, as well as Menchaca’s as the kind of villain that makes your skin crawl, make sure the viewer is invested in the film.
Where the script falls short on characterization it, and Hyams’ direction, wring maximum suspense and action out of the situation. An appearance by Anthony Heald (Deep Rising, Boston Legal) as a hunter who finds himself in the middle of the conflict adds a bit of a twist to things. He’s also the film’s only other character except for a few voices on the other end of a phone.
Mention should be made of Federico Verardi’s cinematography. He does a great job of making the forest look both beautiful and menacing. He also makes it vast or claustrophobic as needed. It creates a perfect backdrop for a struggle that goes on, and whose outcome is in doubt, up until Alone‘s last seconds.