Jessica (Jules Wilcox) is driving alone on the highway at night. If you’re a woman, that alone is enough to send chills down your spine. We’ve all had to confront that fear, that feeling of eerie vulnerability. Should you get a flat tire, or your engine quit, or a patch of black ice send you careening into a shoulder of snow that won’t let go – you’ll be a sitting duck. It’s sad when a horror movie doesn’t have to introduce any other element before this scenario, just a woman driving at night, is already creepy.
But since this is a horror movie, Jules will not stay alone for long. In broad daylight, a slow-moving Jeep impedes her progress so she ignores the double solid yellow lines and undertakes a pass – which is when a) the Jeep of course suddenly decides to speed up, and b) a tractor trailer comes barreling toward her. With a thumping heart and shaky hands, she barely swerves back into her lane on time. She’s still shaking that evening as she speaks to her mother on the phone at a rest stop. She is disconcerted to find both the Jeep and its driver (Marc Menchaca) are there as well. This is only the first time she realizes he’s been following her, but not the last. Eventually she will wake up hog tied in his basement. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst is when she makes a break for it – high tails it out of his cabin only to find herself alone and barefoot in the woods. She’s at a huge disadvantage, her pursuer is relentless, and now she’s got two things to battle and survive: the man, and the elements.
I am kind of a wuss about horror movies (haha, “kind of”), but every summer I make an exception for the Fantasia Film Festival which brings together an exceptional lineup of genre cinema that is so weird and wonderful I simply cannot resist. Director John Hyams takes full advantage of my generosity by crafting a film that feels like a personal affront: pretty much everything I’ve ever lost sleep about is in this movie.
Since the pandemic has dried up our main source of movies (ie, cinemas), I’ve actually been watching a greater number of horror movies lately, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but my main complaint has been that they’re not scary enough. As a well-established chicken, if I can sit through your film comfortably, you have failed as a horror director. Hang up your hockey mask and go. But Hyams has managed not only to bring the dread, but to sustain it throughout the entire 90+ minutes of the film. The tension is uninterrupted and it is serious.
The film is almost entirely a two-hander, with both Wilcox and Menchaca well cast and believable. Earlier that day I’d been reading an article for actors which said that one of the most important things you can do for yourself is know your type. Solicit opinions from trusted directors and colleagues and have them assess which type you best fulfill – which may be hard to hear, but is essential to succeeding in your career. So watching Alone, I couldn’t help but send mental kudos to the person who looked Menchaca dead in the eye and said “pervert.” It takes guts to tell someone they have a future in playing perps: abductors, rapists, all around creeps.To his credit, Menchaca grew the obligatory mustache and has clearly embraced the trope. There is some freedom in playing a man so detached from morals and social order and Menchaca clearly thrives in that pocket. But Wilcox is more than merely prey. Some of us are paralyzed by fear, but Jessica remains engaged, and willing to take risks. This is why it’s appropriate to give props to the screenwriter, Mattias Olsson, who subverts our assumptions about victim and offender and really puts his own spin on our expectations. Everyone involved in the film is pushing hard, which is what elevates Alone from being just another girl-being-chased thriller on the shelf to something I think genre fans should actually seek out.