The practice of including a “trigger warning” in advance of sharing certain content can be seen as either a considerate editorial choice or an overly “woke” decision that coddles to an imagined sensitivity. Given my own reaction to early scenes in Alone, a new thriller directed by John Hyams and written by Mattias Olsson, I’ll err on the side of the former and say that certain parts in the set-up of the film might be difficult to watch.
Alone follows Jessica (Jules Wilcox), a young woman newly widowed who’s moving across country on her own, driving through mountains with nothing but her cell phone and the U-haul hitched to the back of her car. As a woman who’s done my fair share of solo travel over the years, the ominous start to Jessica’s journey certainly resonates with authenticity. At the outset of her trip, she’s caught on a winding mountain road behind a slow-moving SUV that isn’t making it easy for her to pass; when she finally makes her move, the other driver speeds up enough that she’s nearly run off the road when a semi-truck comes barreling towards her. And that’s just the beginning of the scary.
As Jessica continues on her way, she continues to run into the same SUV, it’s driver even going so far as to stop when he sees her at a rest stop and apologize for causing the run-in with the semi. Known only as the Man (Marc Menchaca), he’s creepy from the get go, and every spidey-sense I have ticked off as Jessica tried to strike that tricky balance women know so well: being polite enough not to risk pissing off a strange man who could cause you harm while being stern enough to extract yourself from a potentially dangerous situation before it escalates. When Jessica runs into the same man again on yet another secluded, winding road—this time, his SUV has broken down and he flags her down to ask for help—I nearly shouted at Jessica on screen to just drive away, dammit! Don’t give this guy the time of day! Get out of there, get out of there, get out of there.
None of it is fun to watch, and it was about at this point that I gave the film a silent ultimatum: either get this right by incorporating Jessica’s experience into the narrative, or I’m checking out. I have absolutely zero interest in “torture porn” horror movies where the whole point of the film is to watch one person hurt another just for the hell of it, and certainly wouldn’t be able to recommend it at all. I’m not sure I can heartily recommend Alone, but at least Olsson’s script makes the smart choice and gives Jessica some degree of agency. Though she crosses paths with the Man again, she does drive away in that earlier moment, buying the film some of its legitimacy.
And though the main narrative of the film is fairly brutal—the Man is definitely evil, make no mistake—the violence of the film is mainly relegated to the third act as Jessica’s ordeal nears its end. Hyams plays with expectations and perspectives, giving us momentary insights into the Man’s life and putting us in Jessica’s shoes as she observes him from a distance. And though once Olsson establishes which version of this story we’re telling, there’s enough thought put into the unfolding drama to ensure it’s more than just a “girl gets kidnapped” escapade.
Alone is certainly not a film to suit every taste; there’s a particular type of viewer, one who gets their thrills from seeing their fellow humans in distress, who will find the film most entertaining. Short of that, there isn’t enough here by way of performances or subtext to make Jessica’s harrowing journey worth joining. So everyone else (myself included) will likely be perfectly content passing on such a stressful viewing experience.
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